Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nicholas Sheley Battery Trial, Day Two.

The case in brief
Nicholas Sheley, 30, of Sterling, IL is accused of going on a two-week killing spree, in late June 2008, that left 8 people dead in 2 states. Sheley has been held in the Knox County jail since July 3, 2008, awaiting trial on charges in the beating death of Ronald Randall, 65, Galesburg, IL. He faces the death penalty if convicted. That trial is expected to be held in the summer of 2010.

Sheley was indicted on three counts of aggravated battery and one count each of aggravated assault and criminal damage to property stemming from an incident at the Knox County jail on April 17, 2009. The indictment accuses Sheley of attacking correctional officers with the metal legs he took off a chair in a maximum security day area and punching a sheriff’s Deputy in the face. That is what this trial is about.

Before jury selection began on Monday September 21, Nicholas Sheley’s public defender, Jim Harrell, argued a motion which would bar Sheley from testifying on his own behalf. Harrell said Sheley could not intellectually or knowingly waive his right to testify or agree to testify without incriminating himself in his capital murder case. He based this on a psychological evaluation done by Dr. Hanlon in the capital case. Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Stephen Mathers denied the motion and said it was up to Sheley whether he testifies or not. The rest of the day was spent in voir dire of 47 potential jurors before finding 9 women and 5 men who were qualified to sit on the jury.

" The First Day of Testimony"
Tuesday, September 22


I get to the courtroom about a half hour early today. Right after I take my normal seat in the second row behind the prosecution table, the Assistant States Attorney, Matt Kwacala comes in and arranges some paperwork at the state's table. Kwacala and State's Attorney John Pepmeyer will share the task of prosecuting this case.

You can feel the nervous tension in the room today, even though the state seems to have a strong case against Sheley, the vibe is different from the pre-trial hearings. Some men in suits are standing around. After I look closer I realize these are some of the Sheriff's deputies who normally escort Sheley to court, they clean up pretty well, but I wonder who is escorting Sheley today.

A uniformed Galesburg Police Officer comes in and speaks to Matt Kwacala. He is pushing a cart with what looks like evidence bags on it. They speak a bit and then Kwacala pushes the cart over to the side of his table which happens to be close to my seat. When Sheley's attorney, Public Defender Jim Harrell, comes in Kwacala waves him over and shows him the evidence cart. I hear him say one of the sealed paper sacks has the chair legs, one has the chair seat and he points out the chair frame sitting next to the cart on the floor with a tag on it. He also shows Harrell a few clear bags with CD's from jail security cameras in them and one with a screw from the chair. Harrell doesn't say much, he just goes over to the defense table and puts down some paperwork.

Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Mathers comes in and discusses logistics with Harrell, Kwacala and the court reporter. There is a large approximately 52" flat screen TV on a cart against the wall across from the jury box. They are making sure the podium and court reporter's seat won't block the jury's view of the TV. Looks like we are good to go.

At 9:05 Sheley is brought into the courtroom. He is wearing the same khaki pants as yesterday but has a white long sleeve button down shirt today. I wonder if these clothes are courtesy of his attorney, it's obvious by the creases the shirt today and yesterday were fresh from a package. He has white socks and the orange jail issue sandals on along with leather strap type shackles. One of the deputies in a suit takes the handcuffs off Sheley and takes a seat on a wooden chair right behind Sheley. It's unclear at this point if the security has on suits today because they are testifying or if it is just to "de-emphasis" the amount of security so as not to prejudice the jury.

Judge Mathers calls court to order and asks if there is anything before the jury is brought in. Jim Harrell says he would like to renew the motion to fund a survey for a change of venue motion previously filed. Mathers acts a bit confused at first as to why Harrell would even bring this up and then says, "Motions duly noted, but a jury has been seated." I look back in my notes, when the motion was originally made and denied Harrell asked to renew after trial started. He must just want to get it on the record.

Mathers tells the bailiff to bring in the jury. The jury is sworn in by the clerk at 9:10 am. Judge Mathers then explains the stages of a trial to the jury. The stages are: jury selection, opening arguments, evidence presented through testimony and exhibits, closing arguments, the jury is given the law (jury instructions) and then they deliberate. Mathers adds that the opening statements allow both parties to tell the jury what they think the evidence will show. Like a road map, you can get a feel for where we are going but these statements are not evidence. Mathers tells the state they may start.

Matt Kwacala moves up to the podium and gives the opening for the state. After introducing himself and Pepmeyer he tells the jury that on April 17, 2009 Nicholas Sheley was an inmate at the Knox County Law Enforcement Center. Sheley was staying in a pod that had 4 cells and a common day room. Sheley was the only prisoner being housed in the A-max pod on that day. (What he didn't tell the jury was Sheley was being held in solitary after previously attacking prisoners on several occasions or the reason Sheley is in the county jail.)

Kwacala continued that just before 2 pm on that day correction's officer Wesley McGruder noticed the camera in A-max pod used for monitoring the pod had been obscured. McGruder notified superiors who sent a deputy to check a window to the pod and found the window was covered with newspaper from the inside. There was an attempt to contact Sheley through the intercom but they received no response. Deputies then gathered in the hallway outside the pod and the chuck hole in the door(used to pass food trays into pod) was unlocked. Deputy Stewart Inman looked into the chuck hole and saw Sheley crouched down without a shirt on. Inman ordered Sheley to go to his cell and again received no response.

The officers decided they must follow protocol and enter the pod get Sheley back to his cell. They have to be able to monitor the pods for the safety of the inmates and the officers. As the door opens Sheley stands up and throws a metal chair leg at the officers. The first officer to enter, deputy Michael Johnston, had a shield so when Sheley threw another leg at him it deflected off the shield and hit deputy Inman who was next coming in. After Sheley threw the last 2 chair legs, Johnston was able to pin Sheley against the wall with the shield.
(My notes on the opening statements don't include anything about Jason Landers, he was also struck by a chair leg and his arm was badly bruised. I think I just missed writing it down because one of the aggravated battery charges is for that allegation so I'm sure he was mentioned. Landers also carried the taser into the pod and fired at Sheley, but the leads hit Johnston's shield so it wasn't effective. Landers then handed the taser over to Captain David Caslin.) Sheley continued to struggle and punched deputy Scott Cordle in the face with his fist. After Sheley was dry tasered once by Captain Caslin, he complied. Kwacala told the jury they will see the chair legs from the chair inside the pod. The jury will see the chair and the state feels certain they will find Sheley guilty.


Jim Harrell then begins the opening statement for the defense from his seat at the defense table. Harrell tells the jury the defense has a different theory from the state. The testimony will be from corrections officers....officers who all punch the same time clock, and take their breaks together.
Harrell continues, as you take this journey, ask yourselves do all the pieces fit? We contend there are pieces missing. The officers will have basically the same story, remember they all work together. He tells the jury they may hear from Mr. Sheley and reminds them they promised to listen to all the evidence and not give more weight to the testimony of the officers just because they wear a badge.

Judge Mathers tells the jury the state will now present their case in chief. With that Matt Kwacala says the state will call Galesburg police officer, Sargent Paul Van Achen.

Jim Harrell asks the court to exclude the witnesses from the courtroom. Mathers says granted and about a half dozen people leave the courtroom and go to a room across the hall.

It was very hard to get down all of the questions and answers exactly because things move so fast. I will just give a summary for each of the state's witnesses direct questioning and cross by defense. Six of the witnesses were in the pod during the incident and so their testimony is pretty similar. Here we go:

Witness #1 Galesburg Police Department (GPD) Sergeant Paul Van Achen (sp)
Direct- Van Achen testified he is in charge of preserving the chain of custody and storing evidence for the GPD and the Knox County Sheriff's Office (KCSO). Evidence is brought to him by officers involved in a given case, already sealed in a bag and tagged. His job is to verify the information on the tag and put the evidence in an evidence locker or property room( if too large for a locker) until it is brought to court. There are only 3 people with access to the evidence storage. Kwacala shows Van Achen each of the evidence bags to verify they have not been breached, identify who tagged the evidence and when it was brought to the evidence storage. Kwacala then has him open the evidence bags one by one to identify the contents and put them back in the evidence bags.


Cross- Harrell asked if there was powder on the chair legs? Van Achen says the bags were sealed when he got them so he couldn't say. Harrell asked if the tags indicate the evidence was sent to a crime lab or had any testing. Van Achen says no. Sheley and Harrell whisper back and forth during this questioning.

Witness#2 Knox County Corrections Officer Wesley McGruder
Direct- John Pepmeyer handled the state's questioning of McGruder, who testified he works the control room where he monitors the cameras in the pods, hallways, library, kitchen and outside. McGruder described his recollection of the incident that day, he was the first to notice the camera was blocked in A max pod, he testified after trying to contact Sheley via intercom he notified Stewart Inman. McGruder testified he eventually switched places with someone and joined the others in the hall and was the last to enter the pod during the incident. Because he was the last to enter he was in the position to see most of the incident.

Cross- Jim Harrell questioned McGruder as to why he left the control room [found a replacement]. Did he have to hold a button down to speak to Sheley on the intercom? [yes] Could he see Sheley? [no] How many corrections officers entered the pod? [6] What weapons did they have? [one had a taser] What is a taser? [McGruder had a little problem describing a taser] Did they have pepper spray? [no]
Harrell seemed to spend a lot of time on the cross of McGruder. The way he questioned McGruder seemed to imply that Sheley couldn't hear them ordering him to his cell and that they stormed the pod without cause. McGruder is a young guy and very nervous while testifying, I felt sorry for him.

Re-direct- Pepmeyer's questions clarified McGruder wasn't certified to use the taser, he didn't see anyone using pepper spray on Sheley and he left the control room because it was part of his job to assist and ensure the safety of the inmates.

At this point Judge Mathers told the jury we would take a break. He admonished the jury not to discuss the case at all. After the jury leaves the courtroom Jim Harrell asked the judge if some order had been signed. Mathers said, "We are in recess Mr. Harrell" after saying that Mathers got up and left the courtroom. I didn't note the time we were recessed but we were told to be back at 10 am. Sheley was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom to a holding cell.

At 9:55 Sheley was brought back in and the cuffs were removed. Judge Mathers called court to order at 10 and the jury was brought back in.

Witness#3 Knox County Sheriff's Deputy Stewart Inman
Direct- Inman told Matt Kwacala he is a federal transport deputy and he also transports prisoners for the county. He has been doing this job for 7 years, prior to that he was with the US Marshall for 27 years.( Inman has been one of the officers accompanying Sheley to court every hearing) In response to questions from Kwacala, Inman testified on April 17 after he was alerted to the situation in A-max pod by McGruder he went to the pod and saw that the window had also been covered with newspaper. Inman then notified Sergeant Scott Cordle and they both went to the patrol section of the building and notified Captain David Caslin then went back to the A-max pod to wait for orders.


When Caslin came with Johnston and Landers, Caslin tried to communicate with Sheley through the door but got no response. Inman said he unlocked the chuck hole and looked in the pod, he could see Sheley crouched down in the common area wearing just boxers. Again he tried to communicate with Sheley and got no response. Sheley was advised if he didn't comply they would come in. Inman's testimony was consistent with Kwacala's opening . Inman identified state's evidence F1, F2, and F3 as the legs seat and frame to the chair that was used by Sheley. He also identified pictures C1 and C2 of the injuries he sustained to his face. Inman’s direct testimony was concluded by telling the court he saw Scott Cordle get punched in the face by Sheley, but didn't see any of the other's injuries until after Sheley was subdued because they were all behind him.

Cross- James Harrell’s questions of Inman about his actions that day as though trying to identify inconsistencies. The tone of the defense cross seems to imply that Sheley was provoked. It seems as though Sheley keeps feeding Harrell questions he wants him to ask. Harrell asks where Inman was standing when he was hit? [by the door] Were there officers around Sheley ? [ Inman says Sheley was on the other side of the picnic table.] Harrell waits as Sheley is piddling with some papers for a good minute prompting the judge to ask,” are you done?” Harrell said that’s it.

Re-direct- Kwacala asks had anyone touched Mr. Sheley when Inman was hit? Inman says no.


Witness # 4 Knox County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Johnston
Direct- John Pepmeyer conducted the direct examination of Deputy Johnston, in response to questions by Pepmeyer, Johnston said he was directed by Captain Caslin to come over to the jail side of the Knox County Law Enforcement Center about 2:00 on April 17. Caslin told him they were having a problem with an inmate. Johnston testified that Caslin told Sheley to remove the covering from the camera and the window and return to his cell or they would have to enter and subdue him, if he resisted he would be tasered. Sheley didn’t respond so they entered the pod. Johnston said he entered the A-max pod first because he has training to use the Knox County jail protective shield. He described the shield as a 2x4 concave plastic shield with “SHERIFF” in large letters across the front. The proper use of the shield is to close the subject and pin to the wall.


Johnston said when the door opened a chair leg came flying at him. He said he yelled, “Sheriff’s Department, get down, get down, get down.” Another leg hit the shield and then the door, he could hear the ping of the metal hitting metal. Sheley was standing on the other side of the table. When they went around the table another leg hit his shield and after he saw Sheley throw the last leg he pushed him against the wall with the shield, then Sheley squatted. Johnston said he didn’t see anyone else being hit because he was in front and his concentration was on getting control of a still struggling Sheley. Johnston testified the next thing he remembers seeing was Captain Caslin approach with the taser already suspended. Caslin was warning Sheley if he didn’t comply he would be stunned, Sheley didn’t comply so he was stunned on the stomach area.

Cross- Harrell kept the cross of Johnston short. He wanted to know if anything was thrown when they first entered. After Johnston said 2 legs, Harrell asked in a surprised tone, “and you still proceeded?” Johnston replied,“ After the 4th leg I pinned him with the shield. There were a few other questions that Johnston couldn’t answer because they concerned people who were behind him.

Witness #5 Knox County Sergeant Scott Cordle
Direct-
Matt Kwacala questioned Sergeant Cordle. Cordle’s testimony was consistent with the testimony of the previous witnesses. A few points that were remarkable in his testimony was that he was out of uniform that day because he was in covering a vacation for Carpenter who wears casual clothes in his position. Cordle said he has had previous contact with Sheley while in uniform so it wasn‘t as if Sheley didn‘t know him. He said Sheley looked him straight in the eye and punched him in the face. Kwacala had Cordle identify state’s evidence # D1and D2 which were pictures of his nose and upper lip taken after the incident. Sergeant Cordle also testified Sheley was on a 72 hour lock down after the incident. He said he escorted Sheley to the shower where Sheley apologized to Cordle, something to the effect of you took the brunt of it.


Cross- Harrell asked Cordle if he was rushing Sheley when he was punched in face? Cordle said no I was still. Harrell asked was he pinned when he struck you? Cordle said no he was standing.
Sheley was speaking to Harrell in a very animated manner from where I was sitting all I could here was the last 2 words,” THAT”S BULLSHIT!” I later found out that he was scolding Harrell for ending the cross-examination without asking the questions that Sheley had requested, citing 15 different inconsistencies that, he said, Harrell should have noted.
The judge was telling the jury court would recess until 1:15 for lunch when Sheley was chewing out Harrell and they were seated further away than me, so I don’t think they heard.
Sheley was brought back into the courtroom at 1:20. I notice he won’t make eye contact with Harrell. At 1:24 court is back in session. The people called Deputy Dennis Davison.

Witness #6 Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Davison
Direct-
John Pepmeyer examines Deputy Davison. He establishes that Davison was not involved in the incident. Davison gathered the evidence from the pod after the incident. Pepmeyer questioned whether the chair parts were inside a cell. Davison said yes, A-max pod. He turned the evidence over to Sergeant Jason Landers of Investigations.

Cross- Harrell questions whether Davison tested the chair pieces for fingerprints or hair. Davison said no to both. He asks were all the chair parts found in side the cell? Was one leg outside the door? Davison responded three pieces were inside and one outside the door. Harrell says so what you said on direct was incorrect?

Re-direct- Pepmeyer asked Davison did you put the chair in the evidence vault? Davison gave to Sergeant Jason Landers who placed bags on the chair legs because they were sharp.

Pepmeyer calls Sargeant Jason Landers.

Witness # 7 Knox County Sergeant Jason Landers
Direct- John Pepmeyer continued the direct examination with Sergeant Landers. Once again Lander's testimony was similar to the other law enforcement so I won't repeat it all, but will note a few things about his testimony. Jason Landers wasn't in uniform but he did have his badge on his belt. Landers testified he had the taser gun going in, but gave to Captain Caslin after it failed to stun Sheley and helped to physically restrain Sheley. Landers explained once a taser is deployed it can be reloaded or used as a dry taser, making contact directly with the target. He said after Sheley was pinned down and Caslin dry tased him, Sheley said, "I'm done!" and allowed the shackles to be put on. Landers identified states evidence A2-A7 as pictures of his injuries. Pepmeyer had all of the states evidence except the video tapes from the jail admitted through Jason Landers's testimony because he was responsible for photographing, bagging and tagging the evidence and turning it over to Sergeant Paul Van Achen of the Galesburg Police department.

Cross- Jim Harrell went through all of the photo exhibits of the A-max pod, cameras and hallway before questioning Landers on the sequence of events during the incident and after. IMO, the most interesting question he asked Landers was where was the evidence kept between the incident on 4/17 and when it was turned over to GPD on 4/21. Landers said it was in a locker at the Sheriff's office. Only Sheriff, Clague, Captain Caslin and the investigators had access during that time.

Re-direct- Pepmeyer asked if there was any difference in the evidence from the day he took it to the GPD and now. Landers replied, it was sealed when I turned it over.

Judge Mathers calls a 15 minute break. Court back in session at 2:50. Matt Kwacala calls the last witness of the state's case, Captain David Caslin.

Witness # 8 Knox County Sheriff's department Captain David Caslin
Direct- Caslin is 2nd in command of the Knox County Sheriff's office who oversees the courthouse, jail, patrol and investigations. Kwacala had Caslin go through the events on the day of 4/17. Kwacala asked Caslin to put a price on the chair that Sheley is accused of destroying. he said about $50.00. Kwacala asked some logistical questions about surveillance. Caslin explained there are 32 cameras throughout the jail, all motion sensitive. From the control room 4 monitors can be watched at a time. The Sheriff, Captain and Lt. Carpenter's offices are routed to watch through DVR and are recorded.

Caslin explained that he burned a DVD from A-max pod and the hallway on 4/17. The DVD was admitted as people's G. The prosecutors started showing the DVD on the big screen TV with Caslin narrating until Harrell objected to the narration. Judge mathers sustained the objection so we watched the video in silence. The video starts with Nicholas Sheley coming out of his cell fully dressed into the dayroom and going directly to the camera and covering it. Most of the video was of the correction officers in the hallway before they entered the pod and after cleaning out Sheley's cell. Besides the shot of Sheley covering the camera the most damning part in my mind was when they opened the door to the A-max pod and a chair leg came flying out before they even entered. So much for self defense. Geesh!

The state rested their case. The judge dismissed the jury at 4:00 and advised to return at 9:30 tomorrow morning. After the jury leaves Harrell makes a motion for a directed verdict. (Which means the state has failed to prove their case.) The judge denies the motion. Harrell then asked if the state could be sure that Deputy Underwood will be here tomorrow? The state responds it's not on them to have him here. The state had Underwood on their witness list but decided not to use him. Evidently Harrell didn't subpoena Underwood because he thought the state would have him here. oops. Court is recessed until 9:15 tomorrow morning. Wednesday, September 23. Stay tuned.....it was quite a day! Sphere: Related Content

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