Monday, September 28, 2009

Nicholas Sheley Is Guilty On all 5 Counts For Jailhouse Incident!

This is day 3 of the battery trial for Nicholas T. Sheley, 30, Sterling, IL. Sheley has been charged with 3 counts of aggravated battery, 1 count of aggravated assault and 1 count of criminal damage to property for an alleged altercation at the Knox County jail on April 17, 2009.

Sheley has been awaiting trial in the Knox County jail since July 3, 2008 for the murder of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg, IL. He is also charged in the deaths of seven other people in Illinois and Missouri stemming from an alleged killing spree in late June 2008. If convicted of Randall's murder Sheley will face the death penalty. That trial is tentatively scheduled for Summer of 2010.

The jury in the battery trial won't know anything about Sheley's criminal history, why he was being held in the county jail when the incident happened or the results of two mental health evaluations done in connection to the capital case unless the defense opens the door. Yesterday the state presented their entire case in chief before Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Stephen Mathers and rested their case at the end of the day.

The big question coming into today is will Nicholas Sheley testify? Before the trial started Sheley's defense attorney, Public Defender Jim Harrell argued unsuccessfully to prevent Sheley from testifying, he said that Sheley wasn't competent to keep from incriminating himself on the stand.

At 9:15 am, Sheley was brought into the courtroom with leather bindings on his ankles and hand cuffs on his wrists. He has on the same white long sleeve button down shirt over khaki pants again today; however, today his shirttail is hanging out. His hand cuffs are removed before the jury enters.

Judge Mathers enters the courtroom right after Sheley, but has us all remain seated. That is nice, we were up and down so much the last two days in court I thought my knees would give out. The seats in the courtroom gallery are very uncomfortable, they are wooden bucket seats from the 60s or 70s much like rows of old theatre seats and your knees are above your rump when settled in.....UGH!

Jim Harrell enters a motion to continue. He said that the defense prepared a subpoena yesterday for Sheriff's deputy Underwood, but had not been able to have it served.Mathers asked the state for their response.

Knox County States Attorney John Pepmeyer says the court calendar was specific about dates...we have subpoenaed all of our witnesses.

Judge Mathers tells the defense not having a witness subpoenaed is an invalid reason to continue the case- denied.

Mathers then addresses Nicholas Sheley. Mr. Sheley, you have the right to avoid testifying and incriminating yourself just as you have the right to speak as well. The jury has been admonished they are not to consider a defendant's failure to testify. He continues, often people choose not to testify and are found not guilty. This can be a tactical decision that is up to you. You can have a chance to speak to your attorney about testifying if you wish. Sheley must have declined speaking to his attorney because he said something to the guard who cuffed him and led him out of the courtroom. Jim Harrell tells the court they discussed it last night. Minutes later Sheley is brought back in and the cuffs were removed.

The jury was brought in at 9:30 am. The judge again admonishes the jury that the defense is under no obligation to present a case but they can. With that Harrell says, yes he will ask that Nicholas Sheley be sworn in. Sheley said loudly to Harrell, you asked if I made a decision and I said yes. My decision is not to testify. Well, that's a surprise ( or a moment of clarity for Sheley? or cold feet?). There were even several representatives of the Illinois Attorney General's office here today, I'm sure they wanted to hear what he had to say too. Judge Mathers tells the jury they will need to step out a moment. Harrell tells the judge there was a miscommunication between him and his client. The judge says he will admonish the jury again.

The jury is brought back in and once they are seated again, Judge Mathers asks Harrell if he wants to present any witnesses. Harrell says no. Judge Mathers explains to the jury a miscommunication occurred , that the defendant has no obligation to testify and nothing should be inferred from his not testifying. The jury has been told from the beginning the defense must do nothing because it is assumed the defendant has done nothing. Mathers then calls a recess, telling the jury they should fill up their coffee cups and may even get a second cup.

After the jury leaves, Mathers tells those in the gallery it will take 20 to 30 minutes to get the jury instructions finished. He asks Assistant State's Attorney Matt Kwacala's administrative assistant if she has clean and dirty copies of the instructions. She says yes. Everyone leaves the courtroom except the attorneys that are sitting in the gallery, a reporter and me.....and of course Sheley's security. The state, the defense and Sheley go over the instructions. As long as Sheley is in the courtroom I will stay.

Sheley is speaking to Harrell...."I asked you about this all last week!" he continued " you said it was taken care of ".

Either Harrell or one of the attorneys for the state said, " There are 33 instructions including verdict forms ".

Sheley started ranting at Harrell......" I hope your closing arguments are better prepared than the opening and the cross examination".

Sheley clears his throat and continues," If this is the courts idea of effective representation, it's no wonder the penitentiaries are so full".

" It appears 90% of the jury knows John Pepmeyer personally or one of the officers involved," continuing, "You can call that random sampling if you want".

Harrell seems to be ignoring Sheley, of course he and the state are working on the instructions while he rants....LOL....guess I didn't get down much about the instructions. Sorry.

Here is more that the defendant had to say, " No doubt you get what you pay for here. Nothing. Then again, when you get no opportunity to make a phone call to hire private counsel , what do you expect ? "

After that Sheley said, " It's a corrupt and crooked system, you can just forget your rights if they don't want you to have the rights they claim you have. It's bullshit."

Sheley expected the jury to come back with a guilty verdict, he said, " Everyone should be happy with a guilty verdict, that was the idea all along to get me out of Knox County. Nice to know my attorney helped in that cause, might as well have the title of state's attorney. No private attorney would have done the job you did."

Sheley then turned to a reporter and said, " Let's see if you can get it accurate in there this time around "."

Then he added, " This was the roast of Jim Harrell. Pretty Funny."

Moments later, as Sheley was being cuffed to go to the holding cell, he looked at one of the men I thought was a lawyer and said, "How you doing today? Representation at it's finest." I found out the man was a private investigator for the defense.

At 10:25 Sheley was brought back in, I notice Jim Harrell moves away a bit as Sheley's cuffs are removed. (Can't say that I blame him.) As Sheley sits down he says to Harrell, " Don't have to do the closing, not going to do any good any way."

The jury is brought back in at 10:28. Judge Mathers tells the jury they will hear the closing arguments, this is where the attorneys will tell you what they think the evidence has shown and then you will find out what the law is from me.

I will give you what I have in my notes of the closing arguments for both sides, please be aware that they aren't verbatim. The state will do 1 close first then the defense and because they have the burden the state gets a second closing argument.

Matt Kwacala stands at the podium to give the state's closing arguments.

Kwacala thanks the jury on behalf of the States Attorney's office for coming to court to perform their civic duty, doing so helps the legal system work. He continued, " this opening statement is a chance for our side to tell you what we feel the evidence presented in this case shows. From what I saw of the evidence and testimony, on April 17 Nicholas Sheley had a plan to hurt someone. He was the only person in the pod, so it had to be him that covered the camera and the window. He refused to respond when informed what would happen if he didn't do so."

Kwacala reminded the jury that they saw the on the video that even before Deputy Johnston got into the pod with the shield, the chair leg came flying out of the pod. Then another hit Johnston's shield and another hit Deputy Inman in the face after it deflected off Johnston's shield and yet another chair leg hit Jason Landers.
After all this, the only weapons taken into the pod were a taser and pepper spray, and the only weapon used was the taser after Sheley was advised it would be used if he didn't comply.

Deputy Cordle testified Sheley punched him in the face, and 72 hours later Sheley apologized to him. Why apologize if not guilty? The jury will have the pictures of the injuries on the officers.

Kwacala thinks the state has proven Mr. Sheley is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to all 5 charges and goes through each count. He finishes by telling the jury that Jim Harrell tried to raise some doubt by asking questions about testing done on the chair....CSI is a popular show but you don't need finger prints or DNA, you heard what you need here. Kwacala says he is confident they will return a guilty verdict, thanks the jury and sits down.

Jim Harrell gives his closing statement from his seat at the defense table. Here it is:

When selected to be on the jury we talked to you about inconsistencies. I told you officers would tell you stories with inconsistencies. Harrell comments he noticed a few of the jury has used their notepads, he tells them to check...McGruder testified Stewart Inman was behind Landers but now they say he was hit when the pipe deflected off the shield. Johnston and Landers said they were going around the table. Harrell says he didn't see anyone yell on the video.

This was 6 men with a shield and stun gun ganging up like a football team who went into his cell ( NS holds up 7 fingers to the he disputing the count of officers ? hmmm or just using a visual aid) ....Harrell continues.... like the Dallas Cowboy frontline. Landers testified it only took about 1 1/2 minutes to take Mr. Sheley down, I would think so with a taser. I would think not, you saw his size. (I think he is implying Landers is about the size of a front lineman and didn't need the taser.) Harrell then poses a series of questions and comments that seem to imply the scene was staged:

Where are the papers that are alleged were on the camera and windows? Why didn't you see those?

Go back and listen to the tape and think what you heard in and out of the pod.

What I'm saying is...6 different stories.

Why no DNA testing on the chair?

Who testified they saw Nicholas Sheley take the chair apart?

Why just throw legs? Why not beat the tar out of one of them?

The judge has a role, the state has a role, and I have a role, Nicholas Sheley has no role. If you don't like me, don't hold it against him.

They stormed that cell... because he did what.... failed to do what? Let me could he hide 4 chair legs in those boxer shorts....they didn't see those legs when they looked in the chuck hole...they were not seen by those officers...dissect your notes....there is clearly and unequivocally reasonable doubt.

Matt Kwacala steps back up to the podium for his second close.

Folks use common sense. What orders did Nicholas Sheley get? Take down the paper, he refused, he baited them. He had 4 chair legs and was going to hurt someone.

Mr. Harrell didn't see NS cover the camera??? He must have been watching a different video than us. You saw the video, after they removed the paper did you see any retribution or beating? They didn't even tase him until he had already hurt 3 officers. Mr. Sheley is guilty.

Judge Mathers says court will reconvene at 11:05 (8 minutes), telling the jury he knew they hadn't been out there long but after this short break they receive a lot of legal information.

Sheley is cuffed and led out of the court room. When he is brought back in a few minutes later he says to no one in particular....In all the surveys of judges, Mr. Mathers is rated the lowest in Knox County. (Whatever, Sheley must have thought Harrell did ok on his close so now he will turn on the judge.) No one responds.

The jury is brought back in at 11:08 and Judge Mathers reads the jury instructions to them. Sheley is watching the jury, he looks around the gallery and then takes a drink before staring off. I will spare us all the 33 instructions, they were all basic instructions. The jury takes the instructions with them as they are excused to deliberate at 11:30. The judge calls 2 jurors back and tells them they were alternates and are excused.

After the alternates leave, Jim Harrell tells the judge that even though he made a motion for directed verdict at the close of the state's case he usually does so again at the close of his case. He wanted to be certain it is noted for the record.
John Pepmeyer addresses the court, he says that he would remit the jury review all of the evidence, the chair frame, chair legs, chair seat (I may not have mentioned this steel frame seat was folded like a taco.) and if the jury request it, the video. Judge Mathers says lets deal with that if we get a request.

Jim Harrell has a few concerns, does the jury know they can send a note out if the want evidence? He also has concerns about them having the jagged items in the small jury room for security reasons, adding if anyone was hurt it would be on the county. Secondly he doesn't want any reenactments being done.

John Pepmeyer responds the jurors are adults. Judge Mathers responds F1,F2,F3 (chair parts) will not go back. Mathers then tells the gallery that they will let us know when the jury takes it's lunch.

At 12:10 the bailiff comes to the court clerk. The jury has a question. The judge, attorneys, court reporter and Sheley go into the witness room off the courtroom. They are back out 2 minutes later.

The jury takes lunch from 12:30 to 1:30. At 1 :37 the jury has another question and the same procedure as above takes place. This time when Sheley comes out of the holding cell his shirt sleeves are pushed up and he appears to be sweating. It must be warm in that holding cell...that or he is stressed...most likely both. They are back out in 2 minutes again.

I ask Shirley Pringle (KCVRA) if she knows what the questions were, she says no, it is on a need to know basis. I think it has more to do with the jury being able to hear discussion in the courtroom. This is an old building and the jury room is just on the other side of the door.

At 2:19 there is another question, this time when Sheley comes out his sleeves are up and his shirt is open, showing his wife beater shirt underneath. Evidently they have decided to address the jury in the courtroom on this question, so Sheley steps out and comes back with his shirt buttoned up... the deputy removes his cuffs.

The jury is brought in at 2:35. Mathers expresses confusion as to their question, he says the jury wondered what it should do if they couldn't reach a unanimous agreement on count 2- the aggravated battery against deputy Scott Cordle-whom Sheley is accused of punching in the face. Mathers tells the jury the answer to that is in the proposition instruction 1 of the jury instructions. The jury had a second part to their question-if they can't reach a verdict on count 2 does that mean all the counts are not valid? Judge Mathers instructs the jury that each count stands alone and they must return to reach a unanimous verdict on each count. the jury returned to deliberate further at 2:40.

At 3:30 we were notified there was a verdict. Harrell takes a seat against the gallery rail several chair lengths from Sheley. The law enforcement officers have kept a low profile throughout the proceedings, but now they surround Sheley. Sheley comments to Harrell, "I can move over a little more if it makes you more secure." Harrell ignores him.

The jury files back in. There seems to be a larger group of people who are sitting in for the verdict. As the court clerk reads the verdict of guilty on each of the 5 counts Nicholas Sheley remains quiet and taps his thumbs on his right hand on his chair and is tapping his left fingers on the table.

Kwacala addresses the court. he moves for the bond to be revoked and a pre-sentence investigation be done.
October 30 is set for sentencing.

Here is a rundown of the charges and the possible penalties:

Three counts of Aggravated Battery for allegedly hitting with fists or throwing legs off a chair.
Aggravated Battery is a class 2 felony punishable by 3 to 7 years in prison, mandated supervised release of 2 years and a $25,000 fine.

One count Aggravated Assault attempted to hit Michael Johnson.
Aggravated Assault is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in County jail and a $2500 fine.

Criminal Damage to property for damaging chair valued no greater than $500.
Class 4 felony punishable by 1 to 3 years in prison.

At an earlier hearing, Knox County Circuit Court Judge Dwayne Morrison told Sheley
if convicted of all or more than one of these 5 charges the penalty would not exceed the maximum of the 2 most serious which would be 14 years. So from my calculations that would be a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 14 years that Sheley is facing

Morrison also informed Sheley that because these alleged crimes were committed while being held in a pretrial phase on other charges the sentences would be consecutive, whichever charges he is convicted of first would be served consecutive to the other offenses. He will be gone for a long time if not forever. While I try to keep my personal feelings to myself for the most part, I say good riddance!

Day two

Day one
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  1. Thanks for covering this, Katfish! For once, I actually feel sorry for a defense attorney. Mr. Harrell had good reason to distance himself from his client. Sheley is a ticking time-bomb and who knows when he will go off.

    Is Harrell representing him in the murder trial? Pardon my ignorance on this matter. If he is, he deserves a medal and a long vacation when all of this is over.

  2. LOL, Yes Ritanita, I agree. I felt sorry for Jim Harrell in this case as well. As a Public Defender he has a full load and then you add a client like NS and his cup must runneth over. I agree with Sheley in part that there were motions that were denied because they should have been filed in a timelier manner. Where Sheley and I part ways is who is to blame for the way the case was handled. IMO, if Sheley had allowed Harrell to do his job without all the distractions....2 motions to fire counsel....refusing to agree to continuances Harrell may have been able to spend the time allotted to this case on more productive's not as though Sheley is his only client.
    Yes Jim Harrell is one of Sheley's attorneys in the murder case in Knox County. Because this is a death penalty case, Sheley also has 2 other court appointed attorneys Jeremy Karlin and John Hanlon. Karlin seems to handle most of the motions and arguments in court;however, John Hanlon has handled specific tasks such as the most recent defense motion to dismiss 16 of the 17 charges. I'm way behind on my blogging....Sheley has been as difficult a client in the capital case as he was the battery case....not only has he tried to fire his attorneys and defend himself in the capital case and gotten in trouble at the jail several times, he dropped a bombshell at the last everyone's surprise he told the court he wants to plead guilty to killing Ronald Randall. More later. Geesh!