Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sheley Forcibly Removed From Courtroom, Motion to Represent Self Denied, Battery Trial Starts September 21

Jury selection will start on September 21 in the battery trial of Nicholas Sheley, 30, of Sterling, IL. 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.

The accused spree killer, Sheley has been held in the Knox County jail since July 3, 2008, awaiting trial for 17 charges in connection to the beating death of Ronald Randall, 65, Galesburg. He faces the death penalty if convicted. The trial is expected to be held in the summer of 2010. He is also accused of killing five other people in Whiteside County, Il and an Arkansas couple who were killed while visiting in Missouri. All eight were killed in late June 2008.

The last week has been a busy time for accused spree killer Nicholas Sheley.
During a pre-trial hearing on September 8, Sheley told Knox County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Mathers he wants to fire his attorney, Public Defender Jim Harrell, and represent himself in the upcoming battery trial. At the same hearing Harrell filed a motion to extend the discovery period which was denied. Sheley complained he hasn’t been able to consult a private attorney because of a gag order imposed from the capital case. Harrell also cited the gag order limited his access to his client. Mathers told them both to file the proper motions and he would consider them. For more on that hearing click here.

According to Susan Kaufman of the Galesburg Register-Mail, Sheley appeared in Knox County Circuit Court Monday morning, September 14, to present his motion to fire his court-appointed attorney and represent himself in the upcoming battery trial. The hearing was scheduled Friday afternoon, September 11, after Judge Stephen Mathers viewed several motions filed by Sheley and his attorney, Jim Harrell.
I didn’t attend Monday’s hearing because it was so last minute I didn’t know about it. I was contacted Monday night about the hearing on Tuesday morning, September 15, which I did attend and will give an “in the courtroom report". First, I will give you some highlights Susan Kaufman reported about the hearing Monday.

Mathers said it was important Sheley understand the disadvantages of self-representation including being unprepared to make tactical decisions, not knowing to make objections to inadmissible evidence and receiving no special treatment or consideration. Mathers also cited Sheley’s lack of legal experience.“There is a difference between stupid and ignorant,” Mathers explained to Sheley. “Ignorant is lacking the experience. Stupid is having the knowledge and not using it. I do think you are ignorant and inexperienced.”Mathers plans to review two court competency exams that were ordered in Sheley’s capital murder case. Sheley had wanted to represent himself in that case but eventually withdrew the motion. At issue is not whether Sheley is competent to stand trial but rather his ability to represent himself. Assistant Attorney General Mike Atterberry, who entered his appearance as co-counsel in the battery case for the first time, said it was the
state’s position that Sheley is using tactics to try to delay the trial scheduled to begin Sept. 21.

In other rulings Monday, Mathers agreed to bar the jury in the battery case from hearing why Sheley was incarcerated when the alleged jail incident took place. The jury also will not be told about Sheley’s prior “bad acts” and convictions older than 10 years unless Sheley decides to take the stand. Sheley again told the court that due to the imposed gag order in his capital case, he had not been allowed to consult with a private attorney without the presence of Harrell. Mathers ruled that Sheley may consult a private attorney in his
battery case without Harrell’s presence. That ruling does not affect the capital case.

Mathers said he would make his ruling on Sheley’s self-representation motion on Tuesday.

There was much more said in Monday’s hearing that I learned in court Tuesday and I‘ll include that with my “in the courtroom report.” Have you ever watched “Disorder in the Court” with Ashley Banfield on TruTv?
Let’s just say Tuesday’s hearing at times felt like an episode of “Disorder In the Court". Here we go…….

I want to start this entry off with a big thank-you to Mr. Katfish for being so sweet. Today is his birthday and instead of making him a nice breakfast as planned, I’m getting ready to go to court. When I came out from getting ready he had made me the nice breakfast….what a guy!

I arrived at the courthouse at 8:45 am, the hearing starts at 9:15, so I have plenty of time. I’m a little caught off guard when going through security. The two guards (sheriff’s deputies or bailiffs, I’m not sure what their titles are, but they are definitely sheriff employees) were in a great mood and said, “Well, it’s nice to see you here this morning”. They are always polite but not usually so friendly, it was rather nice. I headed up the two flights of stairs with a little extra spring in my step. My morning is certainly off to a good start.

When I enter the courtroom the only people here are the family of Ronald Randall. As I have said before they are always the first ones here for court and sit in the front row behind the prosecution. They are here to represent “Ronnie” and they are a testament to what a great dad, brother, friend that he was. I’m sure that he is proud of them too.

I take a seat in the row behind the family and say hello. We chit chat for a minute and Shirley Pringle comes in and joins them. Shirley is the Knox County Victims Rights Advocate. A little before 9:00 Jim Harrell comes in the courtroom and lays some papers out on the judge’s bench and the table for the state. He sets his other paperwork down at the defense table and leaves again. At 9:05 the court reporter comes in from the Judge’s chamber followed by Judge Mathers without his robe. Shirley Pringle says “all rise” and we all pop up. Judge Mathers chuckles and says, “No, It’s the uniform you salute not the man.” The court reporter tells Shirley, “Oh , I thought that was for me.” We all laugh as she takes her seat in front of us next to the bench. The Judge arranges some papers on the bench and then goes back in chambers.

At 9:10 two bailiffs come in followed by the Jail Administrator, who takes his normal seat on the defense side against the wall. One of the family and I make eye contact, when he is here that means Sheley is in the building. The Sheriff, David Clague comes in right behind him and sits behind me. Jim Harrell comes back in the courtroom where he stands at the defense table and reviews some paperwork. There are 3 accredited press here. The seats in the front row behind the defense table is reserved for the press. Harrell’s administrative assistant comes in and sits down next to one of the press, awww I notice she looks to be about 5 or 6 months pregnant. She was a cheerleader with one of my nieces. I always thought she was a nice girl, even though I don’t remember her name.

The Assistant States Attorney, Matt Kwacala comes in, acknowledges Randall’s family then takes his seat in front of us. At 9:11 Sheley is brought into the courtroom. He is fully shackled with his jail issued orange scrubs and rubber sandals. His hair is about an inch long and no hair on his face today. He has his expansion folder again and is carrying his readers. Sheley seems to have an air of confidence today that I don’t think I have seen before….or is it cockiness? I heard he was allowed to speak in court quite a bit yesterday, that may have something to do with his attitude today. Sheley and Harrell both remain standing which is unusual. Sheley is saying something to Harrell, I can’t hear what he says from here. Harrell goes and picks back up the papers he sat on the bench earlier handing them to Sheley saying something about received yesterday and responses to motions. They are still standing. I take a head count and there is 8 security officers in here, half of whom are within arms distance of Sheley.

At 9:15 Judge Mathers comes in (this time in robes). Harrell and Sheley take their seats when everyone else sits back down. Mathers said that court is reconvened, as a result of arguments heard yesterday concerning the defendants motion to represent himself pro se. He also says he has the people’s response to the defendant’s motion, but as he just received it, he won’t consider it but will make it a part of the record. Kwacala tells the judge they wrote it up last night. He was out of town Friday and the first he saw the defendant’s motion was Monday. Even though they discussed the state’s position yesterday in court, he thought he should make a formal response.

Judge Mathers is looking around on his desk. He say he saw some orders there a few minutes ago….kind of looking around. Harrell speaks up and says that Sheley wanted to see them first.
The conversation starts bouncing around at this point so I will indicate who is speaking by their initials.
Judge Mathers = JM, Matt Kwacala = MK, Nicholas Sheley = NS, Jim Harrell = JH.
JM- Is there any housekeeping that needs taken care of?
NS- I don’t believe so your honor. I was wondering if you could inquire about the state’s opinion on a change of venue?
JM- That has nothing to do with the motion being considered.

Judge Mathers went on to speak about case law regarding a defendant representing himself but to be honest, it didn’t seem like he finished a single thought. It was like he was reviewing it in his own mind but talking out loud. I wasn’t the only one confused here. LOL

Mathers said that in Sheley’s motion, sealed because of the gag order in the capital murder case, Sheley said that he wanted to represent himself because he and Harrell had a conflict of interest and ineffectiveness of counsel, saying Harrell “put things off until the last minute” and “ often would not return phone calls promptly”. Mathers said that Sheley’s motion contained a lot of conclusions, but no examples and very few facts to support his claims.

In his ruling, Mathers said he could find no basis for a conflict of interest. Concerning ineffectiveness of counsel he couldn’t find evidence to back up Sheley’s claims only conclusions.
Sheley concludes Harrell “put things off ” but offered no examples. Mathers told Sheley that everyone has to prioritize their work
Sheley concludes appointed counsel “doesn’t go through strategies with him“, but gives no specifics so the court can make no such findings.
Sheley concludes Harrell “often would not return phone calls promptly”. Mathers tells Sheley, “you may have left messages and he didn’t respond when you thought he should, but you alone can’t just determine what is reasonable or not.”

I look at Sheley, he is smiling….I don’t think he is happy though.

Judge Mathers says when he considered Sheley’s motion he also considered two competency exams performed last year on Sheley in his capital murder case.

At this point Mathers doing that again, where he didn’t finish his thoughts like he was reviewing the information in his head but also talking out loud, so I just wrote it as he said it….he mentioned personality disorder, executive functions - decision making-problem solving, , distinct from the norm, grandiose belief in ones own ability, very little education, and an average IQ.

Both reports found Sheley had some memory impairment and an issue with anger and impulse control .
Mathers says something about Sheley’s education. He asked him yesterday and Sheley said he had a GED. Mathers says he asked what level of school did you actually complete and Sheley told him 8th grade.
Mathers then told Sheley he would be at an extreme disadvantage if allowed to represent himself because experienced attorneys could draw out damaging information that could be used against him in his capital case.

He continued addressing Sheley, “Why do you think all of a sudden Mr. Atterberry shows up yesterday from the Attorney General’s office and enters himself as co-counsel for the first time and has no issues with self representation?” Then Mathers answers his own question….because they know they can goad or incite a statement from you that could cause you problems down the road. He tells Sheley he doesn’t know much about Sheley’s other case, but after reading the reports from Drs. Killian and Hanlon he knows there are also murder charges elsewhere.

Mathers says the right to represent oneself is an important right and if improperly denied can be reversed. He said, “ I don’t do this lightly, the stakes are so high in the 08 case he must consider this case with the same standards…..broken thoughts again….psych reports, anger impulse, doesn’t have the caliper of experience to represent self.

I look at Sheley, he isn’t smiling anymore and his right leg is shaking….yep he is not happy.

The judge tells the court there are some other motions to rule on but he has a case he needs to attend to that should take about 20 minutes….a foreclosure.

During the break I go over and ask the reporter from Whiteside County if the trial for Joshua Sheley ( Nick’s brother) is still starting on September 23rd . 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. Joshua 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. She says yes, but the first day they will be arguing motions to dismiss and motions to quash the arrest. The Whiteside County courthouse is in Morrison, IL. The trial is expected to last 3 days and starts at 8:30 am for those interested. You can read more on this case here.
During the recess in the hearing, Sheley had two verbal outbursts — one directed toward Assistant State’s Attorney Matt Kwacala. “Do you want to play T-Ball too?” Sheley loudly asked Kwacala, referencing an analogy Mathers made on Monday about Sheley’s lack of experience and education by comparing it to a child learning to play baseball. “I have the testicular fortitude to step up to the plate. Do you?” The officer closest to Sheley puts his hand on Sheley‘s shoulder and whispers something. Sheley shuts up for a minute then tells Kwacala “I had a dream of the big leagues.” Of course Kwacala ignored him.

Harrell starts to show Sheley a paper, I suppose the motions to be discussed after recess but Sheley won’t make eye contact…he just has that smirk. Sheley loudly tells Harrell, “I had no doubt how he would rule on my motion. I just had to prove to myself that a person’s rights don’t mean jack shit. The legal system is a joke,” Sheley continued. “That is why I don’t have respect for authority. I never have and I never will.”

At 10:00 court reconvenes. (I count 10 correctional officers in the courtroom.)
JM- There are still a few motions filed but not ruled.
MK- The state is ready to argue the motions.
JH- Just some housekeeping…order regarding pro se motion, court indicated the motion was denied, but I believe one portion was granted.
JM- Yes, I don’t have it in front of me but paragraph one was granted
JH- confirm ruling yesterday barring psych records from the trial, subject to the defense opening the door..
MK- Yes, if Defense opens the door
JM- granted
JH- Motion to dismiss grand jury indictment. The only case law I could find that was close to on point addressed prejudice and discrimination. I realize this usually applies to racial discrimination, but a poll/phone survey we had conducted in Knox County showed clearly there is prejudice and discrimination against our client. Of the 850 people who participated 76% knew of the case. 82% was reasonably aware, and 32% felt our client was most likely guilty.
JH-The reason we raise this issue is the grand jury would appear to be biased according to our poll. We have no info as to how the grand jury was selected.
MK- The state asks the motion be barred, not filed in a timely manner. Filed 9/11, first seen by state 9/14. Discovery deadline was 2 months ago.
MK- The poll is not applicable to this case. Questions were extrapolated for the 08 case, doesn’t address this case. The state provided evidence to the grand jury on this case only so the decision was made on this case alone. The case law Harrell quoted is not on point, it refers to racial discrimination.
JM- Motion denied.
JH- Motion for change of venue is not complete without affidavit for the poll. Motion for funding to have another poll done in reference to this case. If motion mot granted ask to renew motion at trial.
MK- motion based on polling information from 08 case. If comes up during voir dire of jury then renew.
JH- Just wanted to have before the court.
JM - Both motions go to fears about ability to pick an impartial jury. Motion denied. We can anticipate a lengthy jury selection, but I don’t think it means we can’t seat an impartial jury.
JH- ok
JM- I'm not trying to eliminate motions, just dealing with them ahead.

After Mathers handed down his ruling, Sheley, wearing arm and leg shackles, leaped out of his chair and began verbally assaulting the judge.“You’re a funny guy. Your rules are ridiculous. You’re stupid and ignorant and are full of false stupidity,” Sheley yelled before several correctional officers dragged him out of the courtroom with him dragging his chair. His yells could still be heard as he was being escorted down the elevator.Mathers told the court reporter to continue her transcription of Sheley’s rant.

If the trial kicks off as planned Monday, it might be a good idea to keep Sheley shackled for everyones safety. I hope they can do that after his outburst yesterday. Sphere: Related Content


  1. At another blog that posts this entry it was asked in a comment, " Where does the law stand on being shackled in front of a jury? Would this give a reason to appeal?"

    This was my response:
    Judge Mathers ordered the court reporter to keep Sheley's final outburst on the record(before being dragged out of the courtroom). I think this being in the transcript will give the state some back bone if they were to decide to file a motion requesting he be shackled.

    I found a ruling from the 6th circuit of the USSC of a case in Michigan, People v. Ruimveld, 639 N.W.2d 812 (Mich. 2002). The court found it was an error to shackle the defendant and in this case the lower court also refused the defense request to cover the shackles. Three of the four judges ruled it was a harmless error and withheld the conviction.
    The first case the court cited in it's ruling was Illinois v. Allen.

    In Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337(1970), the Court held that where a prisoner was intentionally disruptive at trial, and where he was informed that he could remain in the courtroom as long as he ceased his disruptions, his constitutional right to be present throughout his trial was waived when he chose to continue disrupting the proceedings.
    In so holding, Justice Black noted for the Court that:
    [t]rying a defendant for a crime while he sits bound and gagged before the judge and jury would to an extent comply with that part of the Sixth Amendment’s purposes that accords the defendant an opportunity to confront the witnesses at trial.

    But even to contemplate such a technique, much less see it, arouses a feeling that no defendant should be tried while shackled and gagged except as a last resort. Not only is it
    possible that the sight of shackles and gags might have a significant effect on the
    jury’s feelings about the defendant, but the use of this technique is itself something
    of an affront to the very dignity and decorum of judicial proceedings that the judge is seeking to uphold.

    Id. at 344. Nonetheless, the Court held that in some situations, binding and gagging a defendant might be appropriate, due to safety or security concerns for all parties involved in the trial. Id.Here is the link in case it doesn't repost in the copy and paste:

    If Sheley isn't shackled I think the far side of the courtroom will be a popular spot in the gallery.

  2. Katfish, I'm just catching up on my reading and I want to thank you for your excellent coverage of this case.

    Now, it appears you are brave and corageous to even be in the courtroom with this loose cannon.

    I am looking forward to the first trial and your accounts.