Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nicholas Sheley Murder Trial - Day One August 29

THE MORNING SESSION
Katfishponders...did not attend the morning session of day one in the murder trial of Nicholas Sheley. I did follow from home via Twitter from 2 members of the mainstream media, Jennifer Wheeler cops/courts reporter at The Register-Mail.(a Galesburg paper) and Tara Becker cops/courts reporter for Sauk Valley Media in Dixon-Rock Falls-Sterling (publication in Whiteside County, IL, Nicholas Sheley's home stomping grounds and where 5 of the alleged murders took place). 

For those not familiar with "tweeting" you can follow either of the links above to each reporters page. You can just follow on their page as you "land" there or if you wish to be able to follow both or more "peeps" tweets  at one location (recommended) you can easily create an account. Creating an account doesn't obligate you to do anything other than read but you can "tweet" if you wish, even if just asking questions of whomever you are following.
Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that allows, for example, you to answer the  question, "What are you doing?" by sending short text messages 140 characters in length, called "tweets", to your friends, or "followers." Note: I call my friends/followers "peeps" just because it seems appropriate ...haha....I do have a Twitter account here but to date I haven't done much but follow....you may have noticed I have a problem with brevity. (◐.̃◐)Please "follow" me if you like, you never know when I might get a tweet up my_<('.'<)_. Please follow me here at katfishponders too....the widget for that is on the right of this page. Now down to business....

Before the first group of potential jurors were brought in, the prosecution advised the court they will be dropping 7 of the 17 counts Nicholas Sheley has been facing for the last 3 years in this case. The counts dropped were:
  • three of the first-degree murder counts
  • two counts of aggravated kidnapping
  • one count of armed robbery and one count of robbery. 
The counts remaining against Sheley are  
  • 7 counts of  first-degree murder including the aggravating factors (carries a penalty of 20-60 years or natural life if  the jury finds  aggravating factors apply)
  • 2 counts of aggravated vehicular hijacking( class X felonies punishable by six to 30 years in prison, 60 years if the included aggravating factors are applied)
  • 1 count of possession of a stolen vehicle, a Class 2 felony with punishment ranging 3-15 years, a $25,000 fine and 2 years supervision after release. 
(When I came for the afternoon session, I was told that the charges were dropped in order to streamline the case for the jury)

Ninth Circuit Judge James Stewart then admonishes Nicholas Sheley of his rights at trial.  

(Nicholas Sheley knows his rights better than your average defendant, but there are rules of procedure and this is one of them. IMO, in a case like this one ,where there is a LOT of evidence against the defendant, his lawyers main focus is most likely to create a record and hold the court's feet to the fire on procedure.)

THE JURORS

Knox County Courthouse in Galesburg, IL
 Close to a hundred citizens of Knox county were summoned to the Knox County Courthouse today to begin the process of jury selection. The potential jurors were brought into the largest courtroom in the 125 year old courthouse to receive orientation by Judge James Stewart.


The attorneys from both parties introduced themselves to the potential jurors before Judge Stewart began his orientation. 

Some of the things noted on Twitter that were included in the orientation are as follows:

Tara Becker

Tara Becker

Jennifer Wheeler

 
 From experience I know that the jury pool is advised how our court system works, the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof, which is the state's. The defense does not have to prove anything.
 If the jury isn't seated today I will try to attend a morning session so I can give you a more in depth account of the orientation for the jurors. As you can see from the sample tweets above, they just try to highlight what is happening. Do keep in mind that they are doing this "live" so they don't have the opportunity to verify facts.....IL doesn't allow cameras in the courtroom, so Twitter is the closest we have to live reporting from the courtroom....it is what it is. I just noticed that Jennifer Wheeler addressed her followers as "tweeps", love that!

 The potential jurors are sent to the basement to fill out the 16 page questionnaire with the witness list attached (so they can be supervised to avoid collaboration). The questionnaires assist the lawyers and judge in the voir dire process (saves time) and the witness list assists the court so they know of any relationships jurors may have to witnesses (again, saves time and ensures neither side has a "leg up"), after they are done they are dismissed and a number of the group will be asked to return tomorrow at 1:30 PM  for the first round of questioning. At 2:00PM today court will resume to hear a defense motion in limine to limit the photos that the state intends to use at trial. I am attending this, but first.....

Here is the jury questionnaire and the witness list for this trial.
Juror Info Sheet Sheley Witness List


THE AFTERNOON SESSION

I arrived at the courthouse at about 1:30PM which was in plenty of time for the 2PM hearing. I was glad to see the parking lot was open. The lot was closed in the morning to anyone but the potential jurors. Parking can be an issue on a normal day because the lot isn't very big. There is on the street parking on 2 sides of the courthouse but it is all parallel parking so it's limited. There is parking on a third side but there is a city park (Standish Park) in between the courthouse and the next street. I don't mind parking there because it's a nice walk through the arboretum, but sometimes I'm running late.....The judge ruled at the beginning of this case once they start no one is allowed in or out of the courtroom...I missed by 1 minute a while back and had to wait for a break to get in.

Well...so much for feeling confident about the time....after I make my way through security and climb the 2 flights of stairs I see the doors are closed and an officer it standing in front of them. Thankfully I know this officer (from my many visits to Sheley's hearings), evidently he sees the dismay on my face and smiles before saying," You're welcome to go right in young lady." (I love people who enjoy their work AND call me young lady!)

When I come into the courtroom Sheley's attorney Jeremy Karlin is sitting at the defense table. The only other people in the room are the family of the victim, Ronald Randall,  sitting in the front row (behind the state's table) with retired Knox County Victim's rights advocate Shirley Pringle and the current victim's advocate Stacy Dutton. Over the last three years Randall's family have consistently been the first ones here and there is someone from the family at every hearing to represent Mr. Randall.

Today is a difficult day for anyone in the courtroom because the issue at hand is the arguments over what photos from Mr. Randall's autopsy and the crime scene where his body was found will be allowed at trial. 

(It's alleged that Nicholas Sheley killed Mr. Randall on June 28, 2008 at a car wash on Main Street, 5 or 6 blocks West Interstate74, before he dumped Randall's body among the dumpsters behind a HyVee grocery store a couple blocks West of the interstate and stole Mr. Randall's 2007 Chevy Silverado pick up and wallet so he could continue on his killing spree. Mr. Randall wasn't found until June 30, 2008, by then Sheley had allegedly killed 6 more people. )

Of course it's the pictures more than the arguments that is most difficult, but hearing the discussion is no walk in the park either. Out of respect for Mr. Randall and his family I will not go into much detail about the photos except to say they were projected onto the wall directly across from the jury box and adjacent to the gallery. (Nicholas Sheley and two of his guards were closest of anyone in the courtroom to the projection on the wall ...but now I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Within minutes more people are in the courtroom and the front row behind the defense is filled with media. All of the attorneys are present and a great deal of security is around when Sheley is brought in. The guards from the DOC are dressed in khaki pants and black polos with the DOC emblem on the left chest...they have their guns holstered in back. The Knox County Sheriff's detail are dressed in slacks and a jacket and the courthouse security is in full uniform. (This mode of dress was decided at the security hearing I reported earlier so the jury isn't prejudiced against the defendant as was his status to be unshackled with a stun belt on his leg and street clothes.)

When Nicholas Sheley came in the courtroom he looked much different than he had just 4 days earlier. Of course he had on street clothes instead of the bright yellow "escape suit " issued by the DOC but the same white 3/4 top sneakers. His lawyer had purchased him some khaki pants and a blue (almost denim blue) button down shirt. The shirt looked as though it had just come out of the package but was starting to get wrinkly (no doubt he had been kept in a holding cell between when the jury pool was sent downstairs and now)and he had rolled the sleeves up to the forearm where you could see some of his tattoos. The gel and spikey hair was replaced by a close cut and his face was clean shaven. When he is brought in he has on leg shackles and hand cuffs. He knelt on the seat of the wooden chair at the defense table and his leg shackles were removed then he stood up and his pink handcuffs were removed. You can tell he has a stun belt on his leg under his pants. (Or do I just notice it because I know it's there?)

Defense Attorney Jeremy Karlin began his argument by saying that when he was reappointed to the case, 3 weeks ago, he was told he would receive a list of evidence from the state. Karlin conceded he and Assistant Attorney General Bill Elward did have a meeting last week and he was shown a disc of photos from both crime scenes (Southards Car Wash and the back of HyVee grocery store). Karlin told the court, " Mr. Elward narrowed it down a bit (sarcasm)....didn't think the state would use both discs, adding Michael Atterbury  just handed him a list, which he appreciates but he has to go through them now."
Mr. Karlin continued, "The legal principles are clear...offer should be allowed if probative but not if prejudicial, cumulative, repetitive or just plain inflammatory."

Having said that Karlin started to Que up the photos on a laptop sitting on the table in front of the court clerk. before he turned on the projector, Jeremy Karlin addressed the court, saying he realized the court had ruled once a session started only the media would be allowed to enter and leave, but asked the court if Mr. Randall's family would be able to leave if the photos upset them too much. Of course Judge Stewart agreed.

As each photo was shown Bill Elward addressed the relevance of the photo and why the state felt it was necessary to use at trial. Most often  the relevance had to do with what element of a charge(s) the photo would support or why the state's pathologist had requested to use the photo to describe a particular injury. Jeremy Karlin would then make his objection to the particular photo. It seems as though they had narrowed down the photos to those that were being contested by the defense.

The Dr. who did the autopsy on Ronald Randall is Dr. Violette S. Hnilica MD. Doctor Hnilica is a Forensic Pathologist who practices in Peoria, Il. She is trained in the areas of Forensic Pathology, Chemical Pathology, Radioisotopic Pathology, Clinical Pathology & Anatomic Pathology. (WOW! That's a lot of education.) Shirley Pringle told me she has seen Dr. Hnilica testify and she is quite good on the stand.

(More often than not Medical Examiners or Pathologists can be very tedious testimony but when they are good they are captivating. I'm looking forward to her testimony. )

Wouldn't you know it, after the second photo the screen went blank. ( No fancy stuff here, when I say "screen" I mean the picture being projected on the wall. The Knox County board is notorious for refusing to spend a dime on this courthouse but that's a whole other blog.) Bill Elward jumped up to switch over to his laptop and Jeremy Karlin quipped, " Redundancy is a good thing."

While the attorneys worked on getting the photo presentation back up,  Sheriff David Clague approached the family about not putting themselves through seeing this,  but they opted to stay. (I do understand their stance but have been praying today they are doing ok. While viewing the photos it didn't bother me but I definitely dreamed about it last night.) After I had moved over in my row so I could observe Sheley's demeanor during the presentation,Stacy Dutton moved to my seat where she was closer to the family. Shirley Pringle was already on the other end in their row so they had the family "blanketed". These 2 women are awesome and Knox County is fortunate to have them as victims advocates, I'm certain the families they work with are appreciative. (My family was in that position years back and Shirley was a great help. Now that Shirley has retired [but still sits in for this case] she will be missed, but Stacy seems like a good fit for the job)

Speaking of Sheley's demeanor during the photo presentation....at first he didn't look up but then he started looking without expression. When the attorneys got to the autopsy photos, Sheley chose to take some notes then picked up a book, “ The Trial Handbook for Illinois Lawyers”, off the defense table to read...the index....(◔_◔).

The court took a one hour recess to allow Jeremy Karlin time to go through a disc of pictures he hadn't known the state planned to use, they included crime scene photos and photos from the Russell Reed case. (The state contends after allegedly killing Russell Reed, Nicholas Sheley went on the run to avoid apprehension for that case and ended up here in Galesburg with a stolen van and only $3 for gas before he met up with Ronald Randall.)After the break the lawyers narrowed it down to 6 more pictures for the judge to rule on.

THE JUDGES RULING

Judge James Stewart said some photos may be admitted to establish any fact relative to the case, however he told the state to make some choices between some repetitive photos. There are no stipulations between the parties to any facts of the case. He also said that something excluded may be admitted for another reason such as rebuttal.

Stewart said he didn't know if there would be witnesses to contradict the state's witness's conclusions. It would be different if two pathologists were arguing about the cause of death and needed to point out specific injuries in the photograph. However, he said these graphic images would be highly prejudicial.

“These are ultimately some of the most gruesome photos that I’ve seen in a long, long time... I’d have to say in 24 years I’ve seen some pretty bad, gruesome photos. If I can say that and other court personnel can say that and have a similar opinion, we have to be considerate about people who may be viewing them for the first time,” Stewart said.

Judge Stewart ruled specifically on 6 photos that cannot be used at trial. The most gruesome images of Randall will not be shown to the jurors. Stewart said, "If a lay person saw these and barfed we would have a mistrial or if one of them even made an audible gasp we'd have a mistrial". The state will not be able to show photographs of Reed either and must limit the number of crime scene images. One crime scene photo from HyVee in particular can be used but the image of Mr. Randall must be blurred or obscured in some way....adding he just wasn't sure of the probative value of that picture.

Stewart said if the prosecution wanted a witness to explain the injuries further, the person could use diagrams or draw pictures to illustrate.

Judge Stewart asked that that an order be submitted by the defense to reflect his rulings.

Court will resume at 9AM on Tuesday, August 30 for orientation with the second group of prospective jurors. The first 20 from today's group of jurors will be called back at 1:30 PM on Tuesday  to begin the first round of questioning. I will attend the afternoon session.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nicholas Sheley Trial...Let's Get A Move On....August 12 and 25th Hearings

The last two weeks have been quite busy in Knox County, IL with preparation for the murder trial of 32 year old Nicholas T. Sheley. The last couple weeks have been busy for me as well, but not with blogging, so I find myself trying to catch up now.

The trial officially got started today with an orientation for the first group of approximately 100 prospective jurors this morning and a motion hearing this afternoon. I'll get to that in my next post, but first I want to talk about the hearings in preparation for the trial and share some pictures I had an opportunity to take after the final case management conference on August 12, 2011. There was also a hearing called to hear a defense motion about security issues for trial on Thursday, August 25.

August 12 hearing

From the beginning this looked like this could be one of the more interesting pre-trial hearings to date. I learned there would be some witnesses testifying on behalf of the state, one of those witnesses being Holly Sheley (Nicholas Sheley's wife).

When Sheley came into the courtroom I was somewhat surprised to see he had his hair spiked up and the makings of a strange little thin mustache and goatee started. He changes his look frequently but just a few weeks ago he was clean shaven and had a buzz cut....and I didn't know inmates had access to "gel". I think it's gel...if not gel maybe we don't want to know. (◐.̃◐) Of course he had his bright yellow prison jumpsuit (aka escape suit) and was fully shackled at the feet, wrist and waist. I had heard at a previous hearing (that I missed) it had been decided that his hands would be free when in front of the jury, but was a little taken aback when Judge Stewart ordered his waist and hand cuffs be removed today. Not really anything to worry about though, the guards that accompany him from the DOC are pretty fierce looking dudes and there are Knox County Sheriff deputies and court security as well.

To start off the hearing Jeremy Karlin was given packages from the Circuit Clerk that were return of subpoena's from several media outlets. Oh oh? What's next...Change of Venue Motion? Someone had left a comment here that this motion would be filed today, but no one I spoke with knew anything about it. As it turns out there was no COV motion....but the defense did request funds to take another phone survey in Knox County to see what the "climate" was towards his client because of pretrial publicity. ( The defense did an extensive phone survey, back in late 2008 early 2009 and requested a COV based on the results, at that time the judge denied without prejudice because it was too early in the case.)

Bill Elward, Assistant Attorney General objected, on behalf of the state, to another survey being done stating there has been practically no media given this case in 2011 and stated that jurors can know about a case but still be fair and impartial.

Karlin raised his eyebrows and pointed out the stack of responses from media the clerk had just given him as a response to Elward's claim of no media and cited Irwin V Dowd which is case law that basically states a potential juror who has been prejudiced by inflammatory media can't be trusted to be candid about their ability to be impartial in Voir Dire. Karlin  added there would be no harm or prejudice to the state, he is not asking for a Change of Venue....at this time (◔_◔) but was just trying to make a record.

Judge Stewart denied Karlin's request for a new survey. Stewart said that pretrial publicity doesn't mean a biased jury, adding if the defense had asked for this back in May or June he may have considered it, but we are now 2 weeks from trial and over 700 people have already been summoned. The motion is not timely
and under  Supreme Court Rules Voir Dire is the best way to determine if potential jurors have preformed opinions. Deny request, not timely.

( This wasn't said in court but should be noted, this untimeliness does not reflect on Jeremy Karlin; responsibility for that falls squarely in Nicholas Sheley's lap. Karlin was removed from the case on April 25 and reappointed to the case on July 19 because of Sheley's desire to represent himself (Pro Se). IMO, He is damn lucky the court let him have Jeremy Karlin back.....and that Karlin was willing to come back on. I also want to note the discussion about the survey came in at the end of the hearing but was more "fluid" to present it together here together with return of subpoena info.)

The next issue was a defense motion for individual jury sequestration during voir dire (questioning). Karlin argued  that questioning the jurors individually prevents spoiling the rest of the jurors if one should say something inflammatory or prejudicial concerning the other crimes in the alleged killing spree.The judge denied this request, individual voir dire would slow things down too much, they will be done in groups.
The discussion segued into preparation of the jury questionnaires and how they will be handled. Most of the preparation was done earlier by the attorneys from both parties. Today it was decided instead of mailing them out to prospective jurors, each day a group would be brought in for an indoctrination (basic facts of the case, admonitions about not watching any coverage of the case or talking to anyone about it, etc.) and then will be taken downstairs to the basement to fill out the questionnaires where they can be supervised so as not to collaborate and review the witness lists (this is a small county need to be sure not related to each other....just kidding....kinda LOL) and then they can leave for the day. The attorneys will review the questionnaires and the court will call back a number of them for the actual Voir Dire the next afternoon. (The next morning a new group will come in for indoctrination, etc....there are 4 groups available if needed to seat a jury.)

The defense has a motion to quash a video taped deposition because the transcript of the video wasn't signed. The state asked the court to look at the video adding they have the videographer here to certify the tape. Bill Elward told the judge this is vital relevant evidence, she waited on him, saw the video and verified it was accurate. He said the defense is being hyper-vigilant in wanting to quash because the transcript isn't signed. Jeremy Karlin made a comment, " Since we strolled into argument on this motion is it possible to address...(objections made during deposition)" Judge Stewart told him to wait until after the video is shown.

The reason for video taping the deposition was the witness was terminally ill and would not be alive by the time this case made it to trial.(Evidently she didn't live long enough to sign the transcript) This witness is a woman who waited on Sheley at the HyVee gas station on the evening of June 28, 2008. She "allegedly" sold Sheley a six pack of Bud-light, some cigarettes and a lighter at about 8:30 pm.  She could testify to Sheley having blood on his face and his hands. She noticed it mainly because his hands were shaking which prompted her to look closer at him.(This was allegedly right after Ronald Randall was killed and his body was thrown next to a dumpster behind the grocery store) In her deposition she pretty much narrated the in-store video of Sheley's transaction and identified him. She was cross examined by Jim Harrell (onetime lead defense) She didn't see the vehicle Sheley was in, but the Mobile station across the street picked it up on their video when Sheley drove Mr. Randall's truck into and left the parking lot at Hyvee gas. The Mobile video also captured Sheley when he stopped at that station for $3 of gas in the stolen van when he came into town off the interstate at 8 pm.
(observation...Sheley not looking at the video...reading papers, taking notes, twiddling thumbs)

After the video was shown Elward said the video is accurate and reliable...(which is why the witness would have signed the transcript ) and it's essential to the state's case. He then presented the court with the witness's death certificate (died 2 weeks after the deposition was taken).
Karlin countered that he stands on the motion. Supreme Court rule 414- rule 207. He again points out that objections were made contemporaneously and the court needs to address the objections.
Judge Stewart  said something about the entire subsection and scrivener rules (sometimes this judge talks fast and barely opens his mouth when he speaks so I have trouble catching all he says) the signing requirement is only to verify the statements. Stewart rules under the circumstances shown by the state and assuming a foundation is laid first at trial he will not prohibit the video.

sorry, couldn't resist
Court takes a ten minute break. When we come back Bill Elward calls a witness to the stand that installed the cameras at the Mobile station across from the HyVee station. After the witness is sworn in, Jeremy Karlin rises and says, " This isn't a dog and pony show" and asks the court, " Is it appropriate to use demonstrative exhibits when they still must lay a foundation during trial?"

Elward responds they should be able to refer to the digital video in opening statements.

 (JMO, I think that would be powerful to use the video showing Sheley coming into and leaving town in their opening statement.)

Judge Stewart says he is not prepared to make foundational rulings.
Karlin says he objects to this testimony, this hearing is about the evidence deposition. Stewart sustains Karlin's objection. Elward rose and interjected, " Can I say this witness is very ill and came here today."
Karlin says we are not here for this purpose and the judge agrees with Karlin. No witnesses today. Holly Sheley was supposed to testify that she saw a lot of blood in Randall's truck when Sheley returned to Sterling the night of June 28 and a man was here from RockIsland who owned the stolen truck Sheley allegedly drove here and the clothes Sheley had on in HyVee.

There was some other cryptic discussion between Michael Atterbury, for the state, and Jeremy Karlin, for the defense, about a state's motion for pretrial determination that should be a motion for clarification of course of conduct (prior bad acts)evidence. Karlin says this type of evidence is risky...we won't take a position, it's inappropriate as it comes in referencing inadmissible evidence in pleading and open court. We are not the ones bringing it up. Karlin addressing the court, " I think the state overstates your ruling". Atterbury says the motion is filed under seal and we are not using specifics.
Bill Elward rises and says something about a motion regarding post arrest statements made by Sheley. Elward says, this is a voluntary statement made by a fairly sophisticated defendant after his arrest. Allegedly Sheley said to an arresting officer, "Are you a Christian? I have done things...."
Judge Stewart says he will not make predeterminant rulings,  but will rule that is a voluntary statement.

Court is recessed........we thought until August 29 when jury selection started, but as I said above, a hearing was scheduled for August 25 at the last minute to hear a motion about security issues.

August 25 hearing
I won't go into great detail about this  hearing because all of that stuff is fluid and probably best left unsaid. In order to not prejudice the jury it was decided during trial Nicholas Sheley will wear dress clothing purchased by his attorney. Sheley's attorney wanted him to be totally unshackled but conceded to a stun band on his leg so he can approach the bench for side bars. The state wanted him shackled at the feet to a ring in the floor and either have the jury taken out for sidebars or have the sidebars near the defense table. The judge decided that he would be unshackled with the stun belt so he can approach on sidebars. He will be well guarded by officers in plain clothes and uniform....they will be everywhere! Stewart felt any other way would be too prejudicial, but admonished Sheley ANY behavior issues he will waive the lenient custody status and the jury would be advised of the custodial status change...so it's on Sheley.
After court was over,  I hung around in the parking lot with my camera until they brought Sheley out. These pictures are just one example of the security measures taken when transporting Sheley the 2 hours each way from Stateville.
Big Guy, Bigger Gun


coming out
with some of the big boys



Climbing into the cage for transport
Big Gun





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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fall Out Continues From The Murder Of Emma Barker

Emma Barker was an adorable 18 month old baby girl who lived at the home of her grandparents in Lancaster, CA with her single mother Stacey Barker  when she was reported missing on March 18, 2009.  Emma's uncle Nick and Stacey's boyfriend Brendan Borrelli reported to police that Barker had been attacked and said her daughter was missing. Barker claimed that she had been attacked and knocked unconscious while loading Emma into her car seat after playing at a Lancaster City Park. Barker said when she "came to" 6 hours later at a Park ~N~ Ride, 10 miles down the road, she found herself only partially dressed and Emma was gone. The community was horrified, was there a psycho attacking mothers and stealing their babies in Lancaster?

The next day when the "truth" came out it was just as horrifying. Stacey Barker led police to the spot on the side of the highway where she had dumped Emma's body after changing her story to one (of many) that Emma had died accidentally after suffocating on a plastic baggy she found in her mother's purse when they were driving on the highway. Barker said she panicked when she dumped Emma and made up her kidnapping story because she didn't want to be blamed for Emma's death or thought of as a bad mother . This scenario garnered attention of national media....why would a mother do this to her child? The evidence didn't support any of Barker's accounts and she was eventually charged with murder for the death of her daughter.

Two years later a Los Angeles County jury convicted Stacey Barker of the first-degree murder of her daughter, along with one count of assault on child causing death and 2 counts of child abuse with special enhancements/ allegations. On June 17, 2011, Superior Court Judge Hayden Zackey sentenced 26 year old Stacey Marie Barker  to 25 years to life. She is serving her time at Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, CA.

I won't go through the whole story here, if you aren't familiar with the case or need a refresher, you can follow the link here to the previous coverage at Katfishponders.... be sure to read the comment sections too because several friends of Katfishponders attended the pre-trial hearings and trial, they provided most of the information posted on this blog about the case, but they also added additional details in the comments. As always (can't say it enough), thanks to Tori, Ange, Tiffney Diamond, A nurse, and LeftCoastMom (LCM) for taking the time to attend court and sharing the details!

This is a  case where, in this writer's opinion, justice was done....unlike that FLORIDA case of a murdering mommy, Casey Anthony.....but that's another story. This post is about the continuing quest for justice in the murder of Emma Barker....evidently justice isn't finished.

Borrelli and Barker in happier times
During Stacey Barker's trial her boyfriend and loyal supporter Brendon Borrelli testified on her behalf. As the trial progressed evidence was submitted that contradicted much of Borrelli's testimony.  A warrant was issued for Brendon Borrelli's arrest for charges of perjury (for lying in court) and conspiracy (to file a false police report) on August 19. Borrelli turned himself in to law enforcement on August 23, 2011. At his custody hearing Borrelli was released on his own recognizance by a Judge Steven D. Ogden.
 
Borrelli's arraignment is scheduled for 9/8/11 in Dept A1 at the Michael D. Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse at 8:30am....
According to the CA Penal Code, if Borrelli is convicted on the perjury charge he could face 2 - 4 years in  state penitentiary. The penalty for the conspiracy charge is not as clear in the code as it is for perjury, there are many variables, but we do know both counts Borrelli is charged with are felonies. We will watch this case and let you know. Sphere: Related Content

Nicholas Sheley...He Is, He Isn't, He Is, He Isn't, He Is Going To Stand Trial On August 29, 2011, Isn't He?

Nicholas Sheley at Stateville Correctional Institution
Nicholas T. Sheley is a 31 year old man from Whiteside County, IL who is accused of engaging in a week long killing spree at the end of June 2008. The alleged killing spree resulted in the bludgeoning deaths of eight people in IL and MO, with victims ranging in age from a 2 year old boy to a 93 year old man.


Jury selection for the first murder trial related to this alleged 2008 killing spree, for the death of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg, IL is scheduled to begin on August 29, 2011 in Knox County, IL. As we are on the eve of trial, this seems like a good time to look back at the progression of this case the last three years.

This post and the timeline linked here  can also serve as an introduction to the case for those who might not be familiar with the case but would like to follow the trial here at Katfishponders...This timeline is compiled of information from news reports made in 2008 as this case was unfolding. Even though some of the details included in these reports may come into the trial for the case we will be discussing here, many will not, because what was reported in the media isn't evidence (actually much of what will be admitted remains to be litigated), but more so because Nicholas Sheley is charged and being tried for the death of the one victim in Knox County, not all 8 victims.

In earlier posts here at Katfishponders, I've referred to the progression of this case as a long and winding road because of the many twists, turns and delays this case has taken over the last three years. Many of the twists and turns can be attributed to choices made by Nicholas Sheley, but not all......

At the final pretrial case management hearing on August 12, the court sat a tentative date for opening statements to begin on September 6.....but the question is, given the history of this case.....Will it?

He is...He isn't?
The Arrest and Indictment...

Nicholas Sheley was arrested in Granite City, IL on July 1, 2008. Even though it's alleged by authorities that Sheley's killing spree started in Whiteside County and ended in Festus, MO, it was decided that Nicholas Sheley would be charged in Knox County, IL first. On July 2, 2008 Sheley was transported to Galesburg, IL and charged for the murder of Ronald Randall.


He is.... pleading not guilty to the charges against him and is being held on a 10 million dollar bond  in the Knox County Jail to await trial. Sheley is accused of kidnapping, killing, and robbing Ronald Randall 65, of Galesburg on June 28, 2008. He is also accused of stealing Randall's 2007 Chevy Silverado pickup truck.

He isn't....At the start of a hearing on September 29, 2009 Nicholas Sheley said, “Your honor, I would like to change my plea to guilty.”

He is.....By the time the hearing came around for Sheley to officially change his plea to guilty he had changed his mind again and let his not guilty plea stand.

He isn't.... being held in the Knox County Jail anymore....Sheley awaited trial in the Knox County Jail until he was convicted and sentenced to prison for 7 years in October 2009 for assaulting corrections officers at the Knox County Jail. After a stint in Pontiac Correctional Center,  Sheley was moved to Stateville Correctional Center this Spring.

( This is just my opinion, but I think Mr. Randall's truck 'may' have been the most important piece of
evidence that law enforcement had to tie all of the deaths together, which 'may' also explain why Sheley is being tried in Knox County first. The 2007 pickup is equipped with OnStar which assisted in tracking the vehicle and based on the discovery addressed in various motions that I've seen, there was (figuratively) a truck load of DNA evidence from various victims found in Mr. Randall's  truck  when it was recovered in St. Louis, MO.)

 A Knox County Grand Jury handed down a 17 count Bill of Indictment against Nicholas Sheley in August 2008. Counts 1-10 are first-degree murder charges. The indictment alleges that on June 28, 2008 Sheley caused blunt-force trauma to the head of Ronald Randall that resulted in Randall's death. Counts 11-17 allege that on June 28 Nicholas Sheley kidnapped Ronald Randall, robbed him and stole his 2007 Chevy pickup. Three of the murder counts listed in the indictment  include aggravating factors that made this a death penalty eligible case. The aggravating factors listed allege the blunt-force injuries to Ronald Randall were the result of heinous behavior and wanton cruelty to someone age 60+. Sheley was informed that the state has 120 days to decide if they will seek the death penalty.

He is... facing the death penalty. The state filed the necessary paperwork on September 4, 2008 to seek the death penalty in this case. For 2.5 years this was litigated as a capital murder case.

He isn't.... facing the death penalty.....In March of 2011 the Governor of Illinois,  Patrick Quinn, signed legislation to abolish the death penalty in IL. The new legislation actually didn't take effect until July 1, but the state withdrew their intent to seek the death penalty shortly after Governor Quinn signed the legislation.

As we head into this trial, the minimum sentence for a 1st-degree murder conviction in IL is 20-60 years. If the aggravating factors included in the indictment are found to be present by the jury, Sheley will face natural life in prison. The possible penalties if convicted for the other counts in the indictment are as follows: counts 11-15, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated vehicular hijacking and one count of armed robbery — all Class X felonies punishable by six to 30 years in prison (60 years if aggravators are found ). Counts 16 and 17 are one count of robbery, a Class 1 felony; and one count of possession of a stolen vehicle, a Class 2 felony with punishment ranging 3-15 years, a $25,000 fine and 2 years supervision after release.

Nicholas Sheley will be represented by court- appointed attorney Jeremy Karlin in this trial, but many of the twist and turns (and delays) in this case so far have revolved around choices made by Nicholas Sheley about his representaion......

 He is....He isn't?
Sheley's Counsel....musical chairs?

 After Nicholas Sheley was declared indigent by the court, Knox County Public Defender James Harrell, was appointed to represent him. When the state announced their intent to seek the death penalty, Sheley became 'qualified' to have two attorneys that are members of the Capital Litigation Trial Bar to represent him . Jeremy Karlin, a private local attorney, was appointed as co-counsel on the same day the state filed their intent to seek the death penalty, September 3, 2008.When James Harrell requested a one week delay to allow Mr. Karlin to read all the discovery, Sheley asked to address the court. Sheley told the court he doesn't want a continuance of any kind. He went so far as to say if it is necessary to fire his attorney's then so be it.

 ~ He wants to represent himself round one ~ 


Within weeks (actually 9 days) Nicholas Sheley informed the court he wanted to fire both of his attorneys because of conflict in trial strategy (for one, they were dragging things out against his wish for a speedy trial), he also claimed they were ineffective counsel and dishonest. Because he couldn't afford to hire a private attorney, Sheley requested to represent himself (Pro Se). Harrell and Karlin contested Sheley's request, first based on a bonafied doubt of his fitness to stand trial and then on his inability to intelligently waive his right to counsel. After four months of fitness hearings and evaluations by state and defense mental health experts, Sheley was found fit to stand trial .

On January 31, 2010, the court found there was no conflict with counsel or evidence of ineffective counsel or dishonesty which left the issue of Sheley's Pro Se motion. Judge Stewart told the state they would be entitled to depose the mental health experts before he made a ruling as to the defendant representing himself. When the state requested the experts be advised of  recent incidents at the jail involving the defendant and asked that incident reports be submitted to the experts before they were deposed, Sheley requested a 10 minute recess to consult with his attorneys. When court reconvened the court was advised by Jeremy Karlin that Mr.Sheley withdraws all motions to remove his attorneys. Another He is....He isn't....that one week delay Sheley didn't want had just set the trial back five months....hmmm....makes this writer wonder, just what did he really want? ~ sigh ~

At the Jan 31 hearing John Hanlon attempted to enter his appearance with the court per Supreme Court rule 416, but was not allowed until the state was able to get clarification as to the rule. (Hanlon is from the Office of the State Appellate Defender in the Capital Trial Assistance Unit in the Springfield office. The Capital Trial Assistance Unit is staffed with attorneys who provide trial assistance in death penalty cases in which the defendant is indigent.) Hanlon later became a member of the defense until March 2011 when the death penalty was abolished in IL.


~ He wants to represent himself rounds 2 and 3 ~ 


While these 2 attempts to represent himself weren't for the trial related to the 2008 alleged killing spree, I include them here because they also represent choices made by Nicholas Sheley in his dealings with the Knox County judicial system.
   
In April 2009 Nicholas Sheley was charged with three counts of aggravated battery to a correctional officer, one count of aggravated assault and one count of criminal damage to governmental property stemming from the April 17 incident at the Knox County Jail where Sheley has been held awaiting trial for the 2008 murder charge. At an April 23 custody hearing for these new charges Sheley told Judge Dwayne Morrison he doesn't want James Harrell to represent him and would file a motion to represent himself.
At a hearing scheduled to hear argument on Sheley's motion to represent himself, on May 15, 2009, Nicholas Sheley  informed the court he had changed his mind and decided to accept Public Defender James Harrell as his attorney in the jail assault case....geesh.... 

He is, He isn't...

At a case management conference on September 8, 2009, after James Harrell filed a motion for a continuance, Sheley presented a prepared statement to the court, he said,“At this time, I’m going to challenge the effectiveness of my counsel.” Sheley went on to say he was dissatisfied with his counsel’s direction and wanted nothing to do with the motion considered at the conference, which was to delay the trial’s beginning to give the defense more time to look at the state’s evidence.“If my counsel makes an error, I suffer the blight, I do the time. I do not need a continuance,” said Sheley. This time around the court denied Sheley's latest request to represent himself based on the court's finding that Jim Harrell was providing effective counsel and given the previous mental health examinations as well as the fact the outcome of the battery case may be allowed into the trial for the 2008 murder case it would be improper to allow him to represent himself.

He is, he isn't...

As it turns out, Nicholas Sheley did get his way and got rid of James Harrell....at least for the murder case. In January 2010 the Public Defender filed and was granted a motion to be released from the case, citing  a “total breakdown in the attorney-client relationship” that would prevent him from effectively representing the defendant.(This was shortly after Sheley's conviction on the battery charges. IMO, Harrell did the best he could with that case given the fact the state presented a video of the Knox County jail incident.) At the same hearing, Judge James Stewart appointed Jeremy Karlin as lead attorney and Anthony Vaupel (another private attorney) was added as co-counsel to Jeremy Karlin. Vaupel remained on the case until March 2011 when the death penalty was abolished and Sheley was no longer entitled to 2 attorneys. As I mentioned earlier, John Hanlon left the case at this time as well........leaving  Jeremy Karlin alone to represent Nicholas Sheley...but not for long.....

~ He wants to represent himself round four ~ 

March 29, 2011  was the first hearing since the state had abolished the death penalty. John Pepmeyer informed the court  the state is filing a motion to "de-certify" the death penalty in this case, adding the death penalty is no longer an available remedy in this case. Pepmeyer also informed the court that counsel for both parties met prior to the hearing and agreed to September 19, 2011 for a trial date. When Judge Stewart attempted to confirm that date with defense counsel, Karlin replies he has no authority to set a trial date because of the document Mr. Sheley has just handed him....a 59 page handwritten Pro Se Motion that requests he be allowed to fire his attorney and represent himself. He also asked the court to block defense counsel from responding or objecting to his motion and to block any attempts at further mental health evaluation. The links to that motion can be found in my report from that hearing.,

He is....
On April 25, 2011, Judge James Stewart ruled that he would allow Nicholas Sheley to represent himself in his murder trial.Judge Stewart also set a trial date for June 20, 2011.

Before Stewart made his decision, both prosecution and defense argued against Sheley’s motion.
Defense Attorney Jeremy Karlin warned Sheley’s temper could hamper his ability to get a fair trial.
“My greatest concern, your honor, is my client’s ability to maintain his temper,” he said.
The prosecution  noted Sheley will have only limited access to certain documents necessary for his trial because he is being housed at the Illinois Department of Corrections. Sheley, for instance, doesn’t have access to a computer at the prison. Stewart concluded by saying it wouldn’t be in Sheley’s best interest to represent himself. But he added defendants have an “absolute, Constitutional right” to relieve their defense counsel and because of the ruling, Jeremy Karlin was removed from the case.

 I was on vacation much of May and June so I missed some hearings but here are links to the reports of the hearings from Galesburg.com:
Knox County prosecution requests delay in Sheley trial
Sheley trial a go, for now
Sheley trial pushed back to August
Sheley says IDOC impeding his defense
Prosecutors want Sheley returned to Knox County County spends $1,000 on computers for Sheley
Sheley, accused of murder, stays put in Joliet
I think it's fair to say the state and the county have went to great expense to ensure that Sheley was able to prepare for representing himself at trial. I'm sure they do not want to have to try this case again!

He isn't...

On July 10, 2011, Nicholas Sheley once again had a change of heart and wrote the court the following letter. I included the letter here because it is only 2 pages and speaks for itself. You can click on each letter to enlarge it.
 A hearing was scheduled for July 19 to decide on Sheley's request for Jeremy Karlin to be re-appointed as his counsel. During that hearing Judge Stewart said he would recognize the letter from Sheley as a Motion.

Bill Elward from the IL Attorney General's office told the court it's the state's position that this was gamesmanship. In his letter to the court, Sheley said a series of lock downs at the Stateville Correctional Center have denied him access to materials needed to prepare his case. Elward said he spoke with the
Illinois Department of Corrections and learned there was an altercation on July 8, which caused a lock down through July 11, however, it did not prevent Sheley from obtaining materials.

Elward said he had spoken with Jeremy Karlin both on the phone and in person. Elward said that Karlin told him  he could be ready for trial on August 29 if the prosecution agreed to provide a list of witnesses and evidence well before the trial, as well as advise him which witnesses prosecutors intend to call each day. Elward said the position of the state is, "If he wants to have a trial, he can have a trial. If he wants a trial with counsel, he can have one ... let's decide this issue today." 

 Judge Stewart made a comment about legal gamesmanship and case law that I didn't catch entirely, however I did hear him say that because the state doesn't oppose the request for Mr. Karlin to be reappointed, he would allow it, adding it's against his better judgement because Sheley had knowingly and voluntarily waved his right to counsel.

Jeremy Karlin approaches Nicholas Sheley and shakes his hand. As Sheley was led from the courtroom we made eye contact for a few seconds. I couldn't tell for sure if he was happy or mad....he had a look on his face much like the one in the mugshot above but his lips were pulled into a circle as if he was trying to whistle....he didn't look particularly happy. If his goal is to get to trial he should be happy....Judge Stewart said he expects a jury to be seated  and opening statements started on September 6, 2011. Ya think?




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