Friday, June 26, 2009

The Search for Haleigh Cummings Continues

Haleigh Cummings is a 5 year old Satsuma Florida girl who was reported missing on Febuary 10, 2009.
In the 4+ months that Haleigh has been missing more than 4,000 tips have come in , but there hasn't been any confirmed sightings.

When Haleigh was first reported missing an Amber Alert was issued and a major search effort was made
to find her.....but within weeks the search seemed to taper off to what seems is practically nothing along with any of the media coverage Haleigh's disappearance had received.

To learn more about the background of this case and the many side issues that have developed among Haleigh's families and the many "professionals" who have become involved in this case click here. The side issues have really been a distraction in the search for Haleigh so I won't include much about them in this entry. The only good that has come from them is that the media coverage they have garnered has brought attention to Haleigh's disappearance.

I should tell you that Haleigh's parents, Crystal Sheffield and Ronald Cummings, were never married and have been living apart for several years. Haleigh and her brother Ronald Jr. have lived for most of that time in Satsuma with their Ronald Sr. and his family with bi-monthly visitation with Crystal and her family in Baker County, FL.

Most of the searches up to this point in time have revolved around the Putnum County area where Satsuma is located. Today, Friday June 26 the first physical search in months took place in Baker County, on the 30 acre property of Haleigh's maternal grandparents (the Griffis)and after that a search was made of another relative's 25 acre tract of land nearby.

Forensic investigators, a dive team from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and deputies from Baker and Putnum Counties were all on the scene. They checked out all of the structures on the farms, investigators dug up various spots on the farms, cadaver dogs searched and a pond was searched by divers.

This isn't the first time law enforcement has searched the 30 and 25 acre properties. The day Haleigh disappeared investigators did a cursory search inside the families homes, as well as underneath them.

The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office has stressed that the search was not prompted by tips. Captain Dominic Piscotello told Action News the Griffis family told detectives when Haleigh first disappeared that they’d buried animal bones on the property in Glen St. Mary. Investigators wanted to verify those claims. So far, they’ve verified that all of the bones they’ve examined belong to animals. Officials said they have no expectation that Haleigh's body is there, but they are conducting a search out of "due diligence."

About 3 weeks ago all of the agencies responsible for looking for Haleigh met to review evidence and found some leads still needed to be followed and some evidence needed to be analyzed. About 40 representatives from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Attorney's Office and the Putnum County Sheriff's Office held a round table discussion about the status of the case.

If the case is not solved within 30 days , the group will meet again.

Action News also spoke to Crystal Sheffield and Marie Griffis, Haleigh’s mother and grandmother. They say they welcome the search and they’re glad to have the investigators on the property, so they can be excluded. Sheffield and Griffis also say they’re helping investigators and answering their questions.

At the time of her disappearance Haleigh was 3 feet tall and weighed 39 pounds. She had long blond hair and brown eyes. Haleigh also has a birthmark on her left cheek shaped like a peanut. You can see the birthmark in this picture:

Please keep in mind it is possible that efforts have been made to disguise Haleigh's appearance.

Haleigh's sixth birthday is August 17th.

If you have any information that could help bring Haleigh home, please call:
Putnum County Crime Stoppers at

firstcoastnews Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Updates in the Nicholas Sheley Case and His Alleged Partners In Crime

After taking a month or so break from blogging, I'm still catching up on some of the cases I have been following. In this entry I will update you on some of what's been going on in the Nicholas Sheley case, Nick's wife Holly Sheley, his brother Joshua Sheley and Joshua's girlfriend Jenna Henson, as well as his cousin Eric Smith cases.

Katfishponders has been reporting the case of Nicholas Sheley. He is a 29 year old Sterling, IL man accused of a two-state killing spree late June, 2008 that left eight dead. There isn’t enough room to go into all the specifics of this case so let me refer you to previous entries and sources for this case, just click here.

I’ll give a short time line of the killing spree. It’s alleged that Sheley killed Russell Reed, 93, at his home in rural Sterling, IL sometime on June 23 or 24 and 4 days later went to Galesburg where he killed Ronald Randall,65, of Galesburg, IL at a car wash on June 28 and stole his truck.

Sheley then returned to Whiteside County that night where it is alleged he killed four people in a Rock Falls, IL apartment. Sheley allegedly attacked and beat to death two men, (Kenneth Ulve Jr., 25 and Brock Branson, 29), a woman (Kilynna Blake, 20) and Blake's two year old son (Dayan Blake) in the apartment shared by the four.

Next it’s alleged that Sheley drove Randall's truck to Festus, MO, near St. Louis, where Tom and Jill Estes , both 54, of Sherwood AR and visiting the St. Louis area, were brutally beaten in their hotel parking lot late Sunday, June 29. Randall’s truck was found abandoned in St. Louis on June 30. Sheley was later apprehended in Granite City, IL on the evening of July 1.

The first case that Sheley will stand trial is for the death of Ronald Randall 65, Galesburg, IL. If convicted he will face the Death Penalty. He is currently being held on a $10 million bond for the Capital charges and $500,000 bond related to jailhouse assault charges incurred while being held at the Knox County Jail awaiting trial.

On May 29, 2009 during a case management hearing at the Knox County Courthouse, Sheley’s defense team presented six motions citing factors relative to the constitutionality of the Illinois death penalty. Some of the motions dealt with specific language in the state statute that the defense deemed too vague. Two of the motions dealt with the possibility that a future court may overturn the death penalty in Illinois. Ninth Circuit Judge James Stewart denied all the motions stating there is no state authority to declare the death penalty unconstitutional.

I will try to do a full in the courtroom report on this hearing later after getting the motions presented in the hearing….I have a ton of notes.

At his June 2 arraignment for charges stemming from an April 17 altercation with Knox County Jailers, Nicholas Sheley pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial. Judge Stephen Mathers will preside over this matter. A July sixth pre-trial hearing is scheduled with a possible criminal trial date of July 27. If convicted Sheley could be sentenced up to 14 years on the assault charges.



On June 1, Holly E. Sheley, 31, of Sterling, IL (Nicholas Sheley's wife) was making her own appearance before a judge in Whiteside County for a bond reduction hearing. Holly Sheley has been in Whiteside County jail since early April, charged with breaking into a van and stealing CDs and other items.

While Holly Sheley has yet to be charged with anything in relation to the alleged 2008 killing spree perpetrated by her husband some evidence may have come to light that could change that.

Holly Sheley invoked the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer when Whiteside County State's Attorney Gary Spencer asked her at the bond reduction hearing whether she was aware that her DNA was in Ronald A. Randall’s truck. If true, it could be evidence that, despite what she has said, Holly Sheley was in more than phone and letter contact with her husband during his alleged 6-day, two-state killing spree last summer.
Given the time line of the killing spree, above, if Holly was in the truck, it would have had to have been right before or after the Rock Falls homicides.

Holly Sheley testified that she has been diagnosed with bipolar and borderline personality disorders, is seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder and is in counseling for alcohol abuse. She said she would continue counseling and submit to random drug and alcohol tests if released.

Her attorney, Whiteside County Public Defender Bill McNeal, said that $250,000 bond is excessive and “beyond her means” and asked that she be released on a recognizance bond. Circuit Judge John Hauptman denied the request.

After the hearing, Spencer declined to say what type of DNA evidence was found, or give any other specifics, citing state Supreme Court rules that prohibit him from commenting on pending cases.



pictured Eric Smith and Joshua Sheley
Three alleged accomplices in the murder of Russell Reed, 93, of Sterling were indicted by a grand jury in Whiteside County July 16, 2008. Eric Smith, 28, of Rock Falls, Joshua J. Sheley, 30, of Rock Falls and Jenna Henson, 20, of Sterling, were charged in connection with helping accused murderer Nicholas T. Sheley, 28, of Sterling, conceal Reed's death.

Smith was charged with one count of being an armed habitual criminal, which carries six to 30 years in prison and two counts of unlawful possession of weapons by a felon which carries three to 14 years in prison.

Joshua Sheley was indicted on one count of concealment of a homicidal death, which carries two to five years in prison, and one count of obstructing justice, which carries one to six years in prison.

Henson, Joshua Sheley's girlfriend, was indicted on two counts of obstructing justice, and faces up to three years in prison. Here is the most recent activity related to their cases:

Joshua Sheley and Jenna Henson

Joshua Sheley, the brother of spree-killing defendant Nicholas T. Sheley, will be the first person to go to trial in connection with the death of 93-year-old Russell Reed, Sterling. Reed was the first victim in the 2008 killing spree.

Joshua Sheley, 31, waived his right to a trial by jury and instead will have a bench trial starting Sept. 23. The trial is expected to last at least 3 days.

During a bench trial, a judge alone hears the evidence and renders a verdict.

Joshua Sheley faces two charges: concealing a homicidal death, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and obstructing justice, which carries a prison term of up to 6 years.

On June 24, Joshua Sheley allegedly called Jenna Henson, 21, and asked whether he could park a 2003 Buick Century in her driveway. Russell Reed, the owner of the car, was discovered 2 days later in the trunk of his car in Henson's driveway.

The next day, the Sheley brothers and Henson allegedly drove to Chicago to throw away a pair of bloody shoes. Joshua Sheley told his brother he was “going to get him out of trouble,” according to court documents.

Henson is charged with obstructing justice for allegedly telling police that she knew nothing about Reed’s car being parked in her driveway and that she had not seen Nicholas Sheley in 5 years.


Eric Smith
Eric Smith recently gave an interview at the Morrison jailhouse visiting room that was published in the SaukValley News. I'll just post a copy of that report as it appeared(although a correction later published was inserted) on :

Sheley Co-defendant Speaks Out


MORRISON – Eric A. Smith, the Rock Falls man once accused of helping his cousin ditch the blood-soaked shirt said to have been worn during the first of eight rampage killings committed nearly a year ago, says he did nothing wrong.

If anything, the lifelong criminal and self-described gang member believes he should be commended for leading detectives to the bloody clothes left on his front porch and to a stolen gun investigators believed could help them ID the killer.

From behind the thick glass of a Morrison jailhouse visiting room, Smith said he feels duped – told that cooperation would guarantee his freedom, then tossed into the justice system grinder because authorities were embarrassed that their primary suspect, Nicholas T. Sheley, was free on bail.

“I want somebody to tell me what I’m doing here,” he said. “They told me I was doing the right thing. ... I was under the [impression] this was helping their case with Nick – not me.”

Smith has been locked up since June 27, when he turned himself in for questioning in connection with the murder of Russell Reed that his cousin Sheley now stands accused of committing during a 7-day, two-state killing spree.

Obstruction of justice charges alleging Smith helped Sheley cover up the murder have been withdrawn, but the convicted felon remains in jail for possession of the Rohm .22 caliber revolver police say Sheley stole during the first 3 days of his alleged spree.

If convicted on the three gun counts, Smith faces 10 to 40 years in prison.

“I’m not scared of prison. I’m not scared of [expletive]. If I’m guilty, come on with it – I’ll do my time,” Smith said. “But I’m not going down for something I didn’t do.”

The obstruction charge was dropped shortly after the Illinois Attorney General’s Office joined the team of prosecutors handling the case.

A spokeswoman declined to say whether the AG’s office asked to have the charge dropped, citing a Knox County judge’s gag order on the Sheley case there in declining to discuss Smith’s prosecution here.

“As you are aware, there is a gag order on the case,” spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said. “And in any case we cannot discuss prosecution strategy.”

Whiteside County State’s Attorney Gary Spencer also declined to comment on the Smith case.

“Thank you for your questions, but as you know, I am not able to discuss pending cases,” Spencer wrote in response to an e-mail.

SMITH TURNED HIMSELF IN June 27, the same day police folded him into a statewide manhunt for Sheley.

“I talked with my family – my mom, dad and grandma convinced me, ‘If you didn’t commit no crimes, turn yourself in.’”

The saga started 4 days before Smith walked into a frantic Rock Falls Police Department.

That’s when, according to law enforcement, Sheley killed 93-year-old retired farmer and widower Russell Reed, hitting him in the head with a blunt metal object in his own rural Sterling farmhouse.

Three days passed before anyone knew Reed was dead. With Reed’s body in the trunk of his own 2003 Buick Century, Sheley went to Smith’s Rock Falls house and asked for a shower and a change of clothes, Smith said.

“I didn’t ask no questions. He’s family, you know?” Smith said. “He left the bag [of bloody clothes] on the picnic table out front and left. ... He didn’t say nothing.”

Smith said he didn’t know about the body and didn’t know Nick was a murder suspect until the two returned from Chicago and saw that police were looking for him, as well.

On that trip, investigators have said, Sheley ditched some evidence before buying drugs and coming back to Rock Falls.

“I thought we were going to party,” Smith said. “Nick never mentioned nothing.”

AS SMITH DESCRIBED the feeling of being locked up with no idea why, he started to speak with more body language.

His thick arms spread out. He inched forward in his seat. His deep brown eyes widened.

“I feel for the victims. Don’t get me wrong: I tried to help the Reed family. I tried to prevent the alleged Brock Branson murders. ... Every question they asked, I answered.”

The victims’ families “come to court and sit behind Gary Spencer. What is that? He’s the one who let Nick out on an I-bond” – slang for the no-money-down bond Sheley was free on at the time he is alleged to have committed the eight murders.

“No one’s taking responsibility on that end,” Smith said. “Spencer was so worried about going after some black guys from Chicago that he let his time get away from him.”

Smith was referring to the Illinois law that says suspects cannot be held more than 120 days without being brought to trial.

Sheley was charged, but never prosecuted, for allegedly forcing his way into the home of a 98-year-old Sterling woman and ordering her to write checks in his name.

Smith said he knew about the alleged home invasion and always thought it was strange that Sheley, a man with a lengthy rap sheet, was walking the street without bail.

During the 3 days of interviews, detectives “started grilling me about these alleged Branson murders. ... I didn’t even know they happened until detectives told me about them. I was in jail for 3 days,” Smith said.

Court records show that an arrest warrant was signed at 10:25 p.m. June 27, about 4 hours after he surrendered.

Leading the sheriff’s investigation was Whiteside County Detective Robert Luyando, a 38-year-old championship weightlifter suspended without pay in December after being charged with domestic battery in Lee County.

Prosecutors dropped the charges in April, but Luyando still must face the Whiteside County Sheriff’s Merit Commission on charges stemming from the Lee County case, as well as charges of insubordination. A hearing date has not been set.

After the questioning, Smith was sent back to the Illinois Department of Corrections for 10 months on a parole violation. He said it was for a failing a urine test because of the drugs he took while in Chicago.

Smith is no choirboy: At 29, he’s already been sentenced to a total of 26 years in prison. His first incarceration was 2 years in juvenile detention for aggravated battery. Since he turned 18, the longest he has been a free man is 9 months.

He prides himself on the street gang code of silence. “My life is in danger cooperating with these people [investigators].”

AT HIS MOST RECENT hearing, Luyando testified that Smith cooperated fully with investigators.

After he turned himself in, Smith was interviewed three times by Luyando and another investigator. He told them he had the .22 caliber revolver and .22 ammunition. Investigators say Sheley stole the revolver from a house in Rock Falls after Reed’s body was found.

A grand jury handling the case dropped the obstruction charge and instead indicted Smith for being a felon in possession of guns and ammo.

When asked by a grand juror why Smith would reveal such incriminating evidence, Luyando said Smith waived his right to an attorney, cooperated with police and revealed where the guns were.

Most of the evidence to obtain a bill of indictment against Smith came from Luyando’s testimony, argued his attorney, Theron Burrall.

In his motion to dismiss, Burall alleged “perjured grand jury testimony” from Luyando.

More than that, Smith said Luyando offered him a deal: Tell us where the gun and clothes are, and you can walk.

Smith says he still wonders what happened.

So readers, a couple questions....Do you think Holly Sheley will or should be charged with anything related to the deaths in Rock Falls? Do you think Eric Smith was "wronged" by law enforcement? Should the police be able to lie to a suspect to get cooperation? Do you notice any similarities in the "tone" of Eric Smith's jailhouse interview and Nicholas Sheley's jailhouse interview....for that matter Holly Sheley's jailhouse interview and letter to Sauk Valley News? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I'm Back, With Updates On The Casey Anthony, Stacey Barker, and Mark Jensen Murder Cases

Wow, I can’t believe it has been about a month since I did any blogging but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention. Just to get back in the swing of things, I’ll write a bit about some of the cases I have been following lately. First I‘ll give some background of the cases and then the latest reports in bold:

Casey Anthony-

This case is probably one of the most publicized murder cases in modern history. Florida has a law called “The Sunshine Law” which has to do with the release of legal documents to the public in an effort to maintain transparency of the court system in the state. The horrific and often bizarre aspects of this case, the unprecedented release of documents related to the investigation (released under the Sunshine Law), and the national media coverage of this case that was originally reported as a missing child case as well as the ongoing media blitz and strange behavior of Caylee‘s family have all contributed to the intense interest.

Casey Anthony is a 23 year old woman from Orlando, Florida accused of killing her 2 year old daughter, Caylee Marie. If convicted, Casey Anthony will face the death penalty. The child was last seen with her mother, Casey, on June 16, 2008 but was not reported missing for 31 days. Casey’s mother Cindy called the police because Casey wouldn’t produce the child. Casey then “confessed” the child had been kidnapped by her nanny. An international manhunt began for Caylee and the now infamous “Zanny the Nanny” and continued for 6 months until Caylee’s remains were found in the woods near the Anthony home on December 11, 2008. To read the earlier entries on Katfishponders about this case click here.

There has been 2 court rulings this week related to this case. The first had to do with a motion filed by Anthony’s defense. At the time Caylee was found in December, Casey had already been indicted by a grand jury for her murder and was being held in the Orange County jail without bond. Anthony was taken to a waiting room of the medical unit of the jail where her response to televised coverage of the discovery was video taped. Through depositions of jail employees taken by the defense we had already learned that Casey dropped to a chair and hyperventilated even though it had yet to be determined if the remains were her daughter.

On Wednesday, June 17, Judge Stan Strickland ruled that the jail video of Casey Anthony will be sealed. In his ruling, Strickland said, "While the Court is loathe to shield any public record, an argument can certainly be made that the contents of the video are highly inflammatory." (In other words the video makes her look guilty as hell and would possibly taint the jury pool so he sealed it.)

The second ruling came today, Friday, June 19. Judge Stan Strickland allowed a hearing so he could hear a motion filed June 10 by Bradley Conway, attorney for Caylee’s grandparents, George and Cindy Anthony. In his motion Conway argued the release of the autopsy report would cause undue duress for Caylee’s family because of the speculation and sensationalism it would create within the public and the media would taint Caylee’s memory.

Strickland said he agreed that the case is about Caylee, but justice was his focus. He also agreed that the media and the community have a right to monitor the costly case to make sure there is justice for Caylee and therefore he would allow the release of Caylee Anthony's autopsy report to the public. To see a video of the hearing and view the autopsy results at WFTV click here.

This case is scheduled to go to trial in October of this year; however, when death penalty qualified attorney Andrea Lyon officially filed the necessary paperwork to join the case, she stated that she would most likely not be prepared to start the trial that soon.

Stacey Barker-

Stacey Barker initially told deputies her daughter, 18-month-old Emma, was abducted from her car in the parking lot of a Lancaster, CA park on March 18th. She claimed she was knocked out by the kidnapper and woke up six hours later, several miles away at the Palmdale Park-n-Ride. Detectives said Barker had injuries consistent with a struggle, including bruises on her head and was taken to the hospital for treatment. Barker later admitted making up the abduction story. She said the little girl died accidentally, causing her to panic and leave the girl's body near the freeway.The child's body was found 12 hours later, dumped in a grassy lot near the Golden State Freeway in Sylmar, CA. Authorities said it appeared the girl's 25-pound body had been dumped sometime over the last 24 hours and showed no visible signs of trauma. Coroner's officials have not yet issued a final report on how the girl died but sheriff's detectives suspect she was suffocated.

On April 27 Barker was arrested and charged with murder, assault on a child causing death and child abuse. The complaint alleges that Barker willfully caused and permitted the child to be injured and harmed and that injury resulted in death. Barker is being housed in the Century Regional Detention Facility in the city of Lynwood on$1 million bail.

On May 11, through her lawyer, Barker pleaded Not Guilty to charges of murder and Not Guilty to the allegations of Special Circumstances. The maximum penalty Barker faces is 25 years to life in prison. To see other Katfishponders reports of this case and sources click here.

On June 15 Barker appeared in court to schedule a preliminary hearing. Katfishponders has been in contact with an internet poster named Toria who has been attending the pretrial hearings in this case. According to Toria although the courtroom was full there was no accredited press in the courtroom. (Hmm…no wonder I couldn’t find any media reports on this hearing!)

According to Toria the hearing was short, the reading of the charges and then the next court date was set for June 30 and it was over.
She said ,“Stacey was again in her lovely yellow scrubs, NO CORN ROWS TODAY! hair down. still with the stoic face.” (Toria reported earlier at the last hearing Stacey’s hair was done up in some convoluted cornrow ponytail bun with a fake sunflowers in it that matched her jail scrubs.) Thanks Toria for sharing! We look forward to your report on the preliminary hearing!

Mark Jensen -

Mark Jensen is a Kenosha WI. man who sits in jail, facing life in prison with no chance for parole. Jensen, 48 was found guilty on February 21, 2008 for the 1998 poisoning death of his wife Julie Jensen, 40. Prosecutors alleged that Jensen was having an affair and poisoned his wife so he could be free of her. Prosecutors said Mark Jensen fed Julie Jensen several doses of ethylene glycol--the sweet, syrupy but poisonous liquid commonly used in antifreeze--and then smothered her when she started to recover from the poisoning.

The defense said Julie Jensen was despondent about the affair, killed herself and tried to frame her husband.Several weeks before her death Julie wrote a letter detailing her fear that her husband may be planning to kill her. She gave the letter to a neighbor to give to police in the event of her death and told several people including the police of her fears. Because of that letter and the legal wrangling that followed to get the letter admitted into court, this case has come to be known as the “Case of the Letter From The Grave“. You can read earlier entries about this case on Katfishponders by clicking here.

A motion for appeal of Mark Jensen's murder conviction was entered with the Wisconsin Court of Appeal on April 6. The case is now in briefing.

The most recent activity with the appeal was a motion to extend the briefing filed by Mark Jensen’s attorney Christopher Rose on June 15. On June 18 the court granted the motion and ordered that the appellant may file a brief that does not exceed sixty-eight pages if a mono spaced font is used or 14,960 words if a proportional font is used and the time to file the appellant's brief is extended to June 30, 2009.

Katfishponders will keep an eye on these cases and keep you updated.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nicholas Sheley Changes His Mind Again- Decides To Keep Attorney On Assault Charges-UPDATE 2


On June 2 an arraignment was held for the charges from the April 17 Jail Incident. Katfishponders wasn't able to attend the arraignment, but it was reported in the local news that Nicholas Sheley pleaded not guilty to all 5 counts. Sheley also demanded a jury trial during his arraignment.

As reported in the 5/25 update to this entry, Sheley’s public defender Jim Harrell filed a motion May 22 for a substitution of judge, so the case will move to the felony division for a pre-trial conference July 6 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Stephen Mathers.


Nicholas Sheley, 29, appeared in Knox County Circuit Court May 21 for a scheduled arraignment on the Battery and Assault charges stemming from the incident at the Knox County Jail on April 17. (link below)However, Judge Steven Bordner said Sheley’s attorney, Jim Harrell, filed a motion for a substitution of judge. A defendant may request a change of judge if he or she feels the presiding judge may be prejudiced. The request also may be made without citing a reason. Harrell’s motion did not state a reason. The decision on appointing a new judge will fall on co-administrative judges Paul Mangieri and Stephen Mathers. The court did not indicate when that decision will be made. Once a new judge is appointed, an arraignment will be scheduled. I'll let you know when I hear anything.

Original post:
At a hearing on Friday, May 15, Nicholas Sheley told the Associate Judge Dwayne Morrison that he has decided to keep Public Defender James Harrell as his attorney in the jail assault case. Katfishponders reported on the incident at the Knox County Jail on April 17 here (where Sheley allegedly threw the metal legs of a chair at three Knox County correctional officers and punched a fourth in the face)and the subsequent indictment handed down by a grand jury on May 12 here.
For those of you who are interested in the details of the hearings I'll give an "in the courtroom" report of the May 15 hearing, since it was a short hearing I'll give a little more detail about some of the people in the courtroom than I usually do. Here it is:

It's pouring down rain (4-5 inches) as I pull up to the Knox County courthouse for a hearing on Sheley's Motion to represent himself on Felony charges of Aggravated Battery and Criminal Damage to Property, and a Misdemeanor charge of Aggravated Assault. The hearing is scheduled for 3:00 pm.

As I come in the front door at about 2:50 and shake out my umbrella, I notice Nicholas Sheley is being brought in the back door of the courthouse, escorted by a group of Sheriff deputies. The hearing is in the smaller courtroom downstairs so I don't worry so much about making it into the courtroom.(The door to the courtroom is just a few steps away from the security pass-through.)

As I enter the courtroom I see murder victim Ronald Randall's family seated in the middle row on the right hand side of the room with Shirley Pringle, Knox County victims rights advocate. I take a seat behind them just as Sheley is brought into the courtroom through a door at the front of the courtroom. There is nothing remarkable about his appearance today other than he doesn't have on his readers today. This is a little unusual that Sheley is brought in before any of the attorneys are here but I don't think there is a room to hold him in on the first floor. I count six Sheriff deputies around him, they keep a tight reign on him, and rightly so. There is also two bailiffs in the room.

Jeremy Karlin (court appointed co-counsel in Sheley's murder case) comes in the courtroom and takes a seat in front of Mr. Randall's family. He is just a spectator today. Ninth Circuit Judge Paul Mangieri comes in and takes a seat behind me. This is the first time I've seen him in a Sheley hearing. I turn and smile hello, Galesburg is a fairly small town and it's not unusual for people to be familiar even if you don't know them personally. Paul Mangeri was States Attorney in Knox County for 10 years before taking the bench. I "know" him from school athletic events though...he and his wife have 12 kids between them. They have racked up a lot of "bleacher time". LOL

Two friends of Ronald Randall come in and sit next to me. They try to attend as many hearings as possible in support of their friend "Ronnie". Sometimes they e-mail me and ask for times or dates. If you aren't family or accredited press you have to rely on the kindness of others to get this information, the courthouse won't give it out over the phone. I'm thankful to those who keep me in the loop, so I'm glad to pay that forward.

Here comes States Attorney John Pepmeyer. In this smaller courtroom there is one long wooden table in the well for both parties to sit at. Pepmeyer takes a seat at the table leaving a place between him and Sheley for Sheley's attorney James Harrell. Neither Pepmeyer or Sheley look at each other. Sheley just stares into space and Pepmeyer goes over some papers he brought in.

John Pepmeyer pictured
John Pepmeyer is a local guy. He and his younger brother, Tom, have had a private legal practice here in Galesburg for many years. Early on in Sheley's murder case, I heard John say that he has practiced criminal law for 35 years, having started in the Knox County States Attorney's office out of college as an assistant. If I recall correctly, he said in court that his experience qualifies him to handle the death penalty case without being a member of the Illinois Capital Litigation Bar. He is a pleasant and soft spoken fellow in his late 50's.

Public Defender James Harrell comes into the courtroom, he acknowledges Jeremy Karlin and they step in the hall for a minute then come right back in and Harrell takes his seat between Sheley and John Pepmeyer.
James Harrell pictured
James Harrell has been Public Defender in Knox County for almost 18 years. I'm not sure if Jim is originally from the Galesburg area, but a couple of interesting tidbits I have learned about him is that he is an amateur historian whose specialty is the political history of Germany and Eastern Europe. I noticed one day when he got up from his seat that he has a bad back, I commented to Shirley Pringle, who was sitting next to me, he needs to bring a comfortable chair into the courtroom (hardwood slat back chairs are provided). He must live on a farm because she told me he hurt his back when he got kicked by one of the reindeer he raises. (Yep, a reindeer, LOL) Harrell also seems to be a pleasant, soft spoken man and is in his late 40's.

Back to the hearing....Right at 3:00 Associate Judge Dwayne Morrison enters and calls court to order. He acknowledges both attorneys and Nicholas Sheley. He says that this hearing is a continuance of the hearing from May 4. At that hearing he told the parties he would hear arguments from both sides on Sheley's motion to represent himself on the charges in connection to the incident at the jail on April 17, James Harrell's motion to contest that motion and would make a ruling from the bench at this hearing. He continued that in the interim a Grand Jury has handed down a 5 count Bill of Indictment related to the incident.

Addressing Sheley specifically, Judge Morrison goes on to say, "Mr. Sheley, I'm handing you a Bill of Indictment that carries exactly the same charges and penalties as you were read at the last hearing, but we will not have a preliminary hearing." ( In IL, a grand jury indictment confirms the states probable cause to file charges and eliminates the accused's right to request a preliminary hearing.) Morrison asks Pepmeyer if these charges are exactly the same charges. Pepmeyer says, "yes sir".

The judge then asks Sheley if he would like him to read the charges and possible penalties to him again. Sheley replies, "not necessary". Morrison informs Sheley the motion filed by James Harrell questions whether he has the mental capacity to represent himself and asks for Dr. Hanlon to re-examine him.

John Pepmeyer says he would like to take judicial notice of the state's response to this same issue in the other (murder) case and acknowledges the defendant has the constitutional right to represent himself. Pepmeyer tells the court right before coming to this hearing he received an e-mail about a seventh-circuit ruling that deals with the issues raised in Indiana vs. Edwards. The case US vs. Berry recognizes that a judge is basically in a catch 22, the defendant will appeal regardless of the ruling and basically defers the decision to the trial judge. At that, Morrison kind of chuckled and said something like that's for sure. (I didn't write it down)

Morrison asks Pepmeyer, " What is the state's position?" Pepmeyer says the court should note that Dr. Hanlon was the defense expert. Judge Stewart chose Dr. Killian. He continues that both Drs. reports are dated and asks the court to allow both experts to be updated to this (April 17), a previous incident in January and another involving a search warrant.

Judge Morrison tells Sheley that maybe he should have asked this earlier, but does he wish to continue with his motion to represent himself or will he accept the assistance of counsel? Sheley says, "Accepts the assistance of counsel." Morrison says, "Motion to represent self is now moot."The judge then asks Harrell his position. Harrell tells the court the motion will be withdrawn for the present time. Morrison then tells Sheley he can't wait long to change his mind to represent himself.

Morrison asks Harrell if he wants an arraignment to make a plea and to transfer the case to Division 1. Harrell replies he needs time before an arraignment and transfer to felony court. Pepmeyer says the state is ready and willing to proceed and asks the delay be attributed to the defense.

The judge sends a bailiff out to get the clerk so they can schedule the arraignment. The clerk comes in and gets on a computer. She says how about May 21 at 2:30? Judge Morrison says he will transfer the case to Division 1 for arraignment to make pleas on May 21 at 2:30. He informs Sheley that after the Bill of Indictment was handed down another judge raised his bail on these charges from $250,000 to $500,000 and says his order will show the delay is attributed to the defense. He then asks if there is anything else on behalf of the state or defense and they both say no. The hearing is over.

This is all similar to what happened after Sheley was charged in a 17 count indictment for the alleged bludgeoning death of Ronald Randall,65, in a two-state killing spree that left eight dead. Sheley wanted to fire Jeremy Karlin and James Harrell as his counsel and represent himself but later changed his mind. He is being held on a $10 million dollar bond. That trial is tentatively set for Summer 2010, if convicted for killing Randall, Sheley will face the death penalty. Sphere: Related Content