Sunday, August 28, 2011

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 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
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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  1. Great write-up Kat! Is that NS's latest mug shot? Interesting look he's going for there.

  2. Yup LCM, sure is. His hair must grow fast... just a couple weeks ago his hair was cut very close if not shaved and his face was clean shaven...guess he doesn't have much to do now that he has his lawyer back so he primps. How much ya want to bet he looks like an Eagle scout tomorrow in court?