Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Waiting, Waiting, And Waiting Some More....Judge Rules Nicholas Sheley Trial Won't Begin Until 2011

Nicholas Sheley mugshot
The hearing I attended at the Knox County Courthouse on April 29, was originally intended to be a telephonic scheduling conference between Ninth Circuit Judge James Stewart, the Prosecution, the Defense and defendant Nicholas Sheley who is housed in the Pontiac Correctional facility. Judge Stewart had scheduled the teleconference earlier this year in an effort to save Illinois some travel expense. Some of the attorneys for the state, one of the defense attorneys and Nicholas Sheley are located through out the state between Chicago and Springfield.

 Unfortunately,  the prison phone system couldn't forward the call into the area of the facility where Sheley is held, so Sheley was transported two hours each way for this half hour hearing.Why Sheley couldn't be brought to an area of the prison where the call could reach ?? I don't know. Kudos anyway to Judge Strickland for trying to keep an eye on the expense. The purpose of the teleconference  was to schedule some hearing dates and deadlines in preparation for the upcoming capital murder trial of Nicholas Sheley, 30, for the murder of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg, IL . Sheley is also charged for five deaths in Whiteside County, IL and two deaths in Festus, MO. related to an alleged killing spree during the last week of June, 2008.

 I made my way up the stairs to the second floor courtroom about 1:15 pm. The hearing was scheduled to start at 1:30 pm so I had a few minutes to spare. I stopped for a minute to talk to a reporter from Whiteside County, Tara Becker, before taking my usual seat behind the family of Ronald Randall. They always sit in the front row behind the prosecution. This spot gives me a good view of the entire courtroom and a pole to lean on.

 A side note that may be of interest: At the last hearing Tara Becker told me she was reporting on the sale of  the Thompson State Prison to the federal government. I asked how that was going and she said the prison is officially closing as a state owned facility and the few prisoners who were housed there have been moved. In December 2009 President Obama directed the federal government to buy the near-empty state prison in rural Thomson, Ill., to house maximum security federal inmates and lease a portion of the prison to the Department of Defense to house detainees from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The suspected terrorists from Gitmo will not be allowed visitors and the facility will be at least as secure as a super-max facility. The decision is part of a plan for shutting down the controversial Guantanamo detention center. OK, back to the  Sheley hearing.....

In the next few minutes two more members of the accredited press arrive and three of the attorneys from the Attorney General's office for the prosecution and two of the lawyers for the defense. Bill Elward, Micheal  Atterberry and Steve Plazibat from the AGO take their seats in front of where I'm sitting. Lead defense counsel, Jeremy Karlin comes in with new co-counsel Anthony Vaupel.  They take a seat at the defense table, Karlin opens his laptop and they look ready for business. Knox County State's Attorney John Pepmeyer and John Hanlon from the State Appellate Defenders Office won't be in court today.

Right at 1:30 Nicholas Sheley is escorted into the courtroom by four (pretty big) corrections officers from the Pontiac State Prison. He is wearing his tan color prison garb, is fully shackled at his waist and feet. I notice instead of the rubber sandals worn at the county jail, Sheley has on some canvas sneakers. One of the CO's keeps hold of a ring on Sheley's waist chains until he is seated. There are a few Knox County Sheriff deputies and bailiffs in the courtroom as well. As soon as they have Sheley situated, Judge James Stewart takes his seat at the bench and the hearing is under way.

Judge Stewart explains that the scheduled teleconference didn't work out so we are here to do the same business. He first said they couldn't get the  prison on the call, and then said, "well, not to where Mr. Sheley was". Stewart also said that he has four issues that he wants to cover today :

1) Defense co-counsel Anthony Vaupel to update the court on his progress of familiarizing himself with the  case.
2) If the state has complied per Supreme Court rules 412 ( Disclosure to Accused )
3) If the defense has complied per Supreme Court rules 413 ( Disclosure to Prosecution )
4) There is a scheduling motion to be heard.

Judge Stewart asks what the state has on their agenda for today? Bill Elward stands to speak for the state. Elward says they want to set a trial date. Previously the trial was expected to start in October or November 2010 before lead counsel Public Defender James Harrell left the defense. The state is asking for a realistic date that they can work backwards from to set deadlines. Stewart agrees there have been issues with lawyers and other collateral issues that make it necessary to reset the schedule.

Anthony Vaupel rose to address the court. He informs the court that he has been able to read through all of the discovery (over 10,000 pieces of evidence), the court filings, and has reviewed most evidence on disk.
Judge Stewart asks where the other attorneys on the defense are in reviewing what has been submitted in the case? Jeremy Karlin stands and informs the court he has read the entire case multiple times. He adds that he can't speak for Mr. Hanlon, but when they have discussed the case Hanlon is able to speak intelligently about the case. ( I checked my notes and at a case management hearing six months ago, on December 4, 2009, Mr. Hanlon answered that question by saying," all but the last box".)

Judge Stewart says well," How about October or November, does the state have all of it's evidence and it's investigation done?"(Stewart had originally targeted sometime between May and October 2010 for the trial.) Jeremy Karlin says he doesn't see anyway  they can be ready by then. The question of the Motions in Limine for "course of conduct evidence" remains unanswered.

In 2009 the defense filed a Motion in Limine To Exclude Evidence of Other Alleged Crimes or Other Alleged "Bad Acts" at Trial, that hasn't been ruled on. In January 2010 the prosecution filed it's response to the defense Motion in Limine, their first Motion in Limine to admit Course of Conduct Evidence and simultaneously filed a Motion to Seal their Motion in Limine and any defense response because it contains evidence that may or may not be presented as evidence at trial and could taint the jury pool. At several previous hearings Karlin has referred to this as the $64,000 question because he can't comply with Supreme Court rule 413 as to expert witnesses and an affirmative defense until he knows what and how the state intends to use the evidence at trial. The state has contended they can't make that decision until they have some idea of what type of defense will be used. In court documents filed in March, Stewart ruled they would keep the motion sealed until there is a hearing to determine what evidence will be admitted, then the prosecutors will redact inadmissible portions.

Judge Stewart asks Karlin how long after that question is decided would the defense be ready for trial? Karlin replies February or March of 2011. Michael Atterberry stands and tells the court the state will be prepared to try the case then. Stewart says he is not ruling out January, and tentatively sets January to March 2011 for the trial unless circumstances arise that would interfere with that time period. The judge says they need to set deadlines for depositions and a close date for all motions to be filed.

Judge Stewart then asks if  the state has fully complied with 412? Michael Atterberry said, " We believe we have substantially, we're trying to provide what the defense motion just asked for, we have contacted the lab." (This is the first I've heard of this motion, I'll have to see if I can get a copy.) Stewart asks, " Does the defense feel they have complied with 413? Jeremy Karlin replies,"To the extent we know what our defense is."

Atterberry tells the court,  the state can re-plead their Motion in Limine and  asks for 3-4 months to prepare. Stewart says July or August for the state to re-plead and 30 days for the defense to respond, it shouldn't take as long for the defense to respond as it does the state to prepare to re-plead.. Karlin says any information about how the state intends to narrow.....the state conceding is good; however, that doesn't eliminate the defense need for the court to hear live testimony. Atterberry says 3 months needed. Stewart asks if it's necessary for the state to re-plead? Michael Atterberry says the state will do it as an offer of proof by July 1, June 15 at the earliest.

Stewart says if Mr. Karlin decides he wants to have testimony heard the court is available, and adds the deadline for the state to re-plead as an offer of proof is June 30 and then we need to have a case management hearing in July. Karlin says the defense would like an opportunity to respond.The judge says how much time needed to respond? Karlin tells the court 60 days to draft is reasonable, 60 days to respond. Then Karlin must have reconsidered because he says," I agree it's harder to re-plead, how about 45 days?". Judge Stewart responds," 30 days should be enough time, July 30 to respond, and a case management conference August 6 at 1:30.

Judge Stewart asks if the defense can disclose their defense based on the information they have? Karlin says they have done that, but not an affirmative defense, adding the defense can do that within 21 days of the hearing to decide the Motion in Limine. Stewart says 21 days from now. Karlin stands his ground, he tells the judge he doesn't mean to be obstinate but there are some investigations that aren't completed. Stewart tells Karlin he wants them to disclose some affirmative defense by June 30. Karlin answers they (the state) are entitled to know when I know. Stewart says it has been 2 years, it can be amended. ( It seems as though the judge is trying to be as fair as possible here, the state has conceded to re-plead their motion, so the defense can offer up some type of defense.)

Bill Elward stands and asks the court for some confirmation as to the dates that have been set. He lists
offer of proof 6/30, defense response 7/30 and case management hearing 8/6.
Karlin isn't happy with this schedule, he says,"We have addressed this issue, the schedule has us telling you an affirmative defense on the same day." Judge Stewart again says, after 2 years you should... Karlin interjects  but we will have additional information to obtain.

Anthony Vaupel says something about a motion for fingerprint evidence.(This must be the motion mentioned earlier by Atterberry.)  We just got the motion yesterday,Atterberry replies, we have conceded, we'll see if the information supplied is ok. Vaupel asks the court if this can be addressed at the case management hearing on 8/6. Stewart must have agreed because the next thing I heard was an order will be submitted.
Court is recessed. 
The DOC guard grabs the hoop on the back of Sheley's shackle. Sheley takes a scan of the gallery and he is led from the courtroom with his entourage of security to head back to Pontiac Correctional Facility. I spoke with someone who saw them arrive today who said Sheley and  the four guards made the 2 hour trip in 2 vehicles. Sphere: Related Content


  1. Katfish,

    Thanks for the update. I admire you for attending the hearings in this trial.

    The only good news with delay is that Sheley sits in jail working off his sentence from the assault case.

    My heart goes out to his attorneys, they have a difficult client and a difficult case.

  2. ritanita,
    Thanks for stopping by. I know the Anthony case has you very busy. Donchais sure has her hands full with the Coleman case. I'm glad in both of these cases the juries can be brought in from another district versus moving the whole trial. I don't think we have that option in IL.

    I'm so happy that Sheley is being housed in the IDOC awaiting trial because they really are better equipped to deal with inmates like him than our local county jail.

    Nicholas Sheley should consider himself fortunate because he has a very capable group of attorneys who seem committed to giving him a vigorous defense despite the "difficulties" of his case.