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Illinois man accused of killing 8 found guilty in 93-year-old's death, 2nd case to go to trial

An Illinois man accused of killing eight people from two states in 2008 was found guilty Tuesday in the death of a 93-year-old man.

Jurors deliberated for less than three hours in Whiteside County Court before finding Nicholas Sheley guilty of murder in the June 2008 death of Russell Reed at Reed's home in northern Illinois, The (Sterling) Daily Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/RH0nuw ).

It was Sheley's second trial. The 33-year-old man from Sterling already has been convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence for the killing of a Galesburg man in 2008. Sheley also still faces trials in the other six killings. He could be sentenced to another life term without possibility for parole at his Jan. 16 sentencing in Reed's death.

During closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors recounted testimony about fingerprints linking Sheley to the crime scene and told jurors that Sheley brutally beat Reed in his quest for money to buy crack cocaine.

"Each of those injuries to Mr. Reed's face, neck and chest could have been fatal all by themself," Assistant Attorney General Michael Atterberry said.

Sheley's attorney, Jeremy Karlin, tried to cast doubt on the motives of some witnesses who testified against Sheley, saying many were criminals or suspects in other crimes themselves who would say anything to win favor with prosecutors. Karlin also argued that testimony about a 2009 letter in which Sheley said he planned to confess was written to cover up for his brother. Joshua Sheley was later acquitted of any role in Reed's death.

"This is not an honest admission of guilt," Karlin said.

The trial was a major test of Illinois' experiment with cameras in the courtroom. The Illinois Supreme Court announced in January that it would allow courtroom cameras for the first time in the state under a pilot program. Sheley's is the highest-profile trial to allow them to date.

The families of Russell Reed, Ronald Randall — the Galesburg man Sheley was convicted of killing — and Brock Branson, another man Sheley is accused of killing, were in the crowded courtroom Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Sheley killed Reed in his home in Sterling about 115 miles west of Chicago on June 23, 2008, and stole his car. Reed's body was found in the car's trunk three days later.

Sheley did not testify during the trial or his previous one involving Randall's murder.

Investigators allege that Reed was the first person Sheley killed in the spree.

Four days after Reed was found, the bodies of Branson, 29; Kenneth Ulve, 25; Kilynna Blake, 20; and Blake's 2-year-old son, Dayan, were found in an apartment in Rock Falls. The town sits just across the Rock River from Sterling.

That same day, Randall was found behind a grocery store 80 miles southwest in Galesburg, and a Sherwood, Ark., couple attending a graduation in Missouri were found behind a gas station in Festus, south of St. Louis. Jill and Tom Estes were both 54.

Sheley was arrested outside a Granite City bar the next day.

According to police, Sheley was acquainted with some of those killed in the Rock Falls apartment, but the rest of the killings appeared to be random — people whose paths crossed with that of a man on the run.

___

Information from: The Daily Gazette, http://www.saukvalley.com

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