Illinois man accused in 8 slayings guilty in 1st trial

Nicholas Sheley is led out of the Knox County courthouse in Galesburg, Ill., on Monday, Sept. 19, 2011, after being found guilty of seven counts of first-degree murder in the June 2008 death of 65-year-old Ronald Randall. Sheley also was convicted of two counts of aggravated vehicular hijacking and one count of possession of a stolen vehicle. Sheley has pleaded not guilty in five other Illinois killings and in the deaths of an Arkansas couple in Missouri.

Nicholas Sheley is led out of the Knox County courthouse in Galesburg, Ill., on Monday, Sept. 19, 2011, after being found guilty of seven counts of first-degree murder in the June 2008 death of 65-year-old Ronald Randall. Sheley also was convicted of two counts of aggravated vehicular hijacking and one count of possession of a stolen vehicle. Sheley has pleaded not guilty in five other Illinois killings and in the deaths of an Arkansas couple in Missouri. Photo by The Associated Press.

GALESBURG, Ill. (AP) — Jurors took less than an hour Monday to convict an Illinois man of murder in the death of one of eight people he’s accused of bludgeoning to death across two states.

Nicholas Sheley, who is accused in a June 2008 killing spree, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg. Sheley also was convicted of aggravated vehicular hijacking and possession of a stolen vehicle.

Prosecutors had rested their case earlier in the day, and Sheley’s defense attorney said he wouldn’t call any witnesses.

Randall was one of eight people in Illinois and Missouri who died over a long few days in June 2008 at the hands, investigators say, of a killer who bludgeoned his victims into bloody submission.

The trial in Randall’s death was held first because authorities in Galesburg filed the first charges against Sheley. Trials in the other deaths have yet to be scheduled.

Investigators have said they believe the first person to die was 93-year-old Russell Reed. He was found dead on June 26, 2008, in the trunk of his car in Sterling, Sheley’s hometown.

Four days later, the bodies of Brock Branson, 29, Kenneth Ulve, 25, Kilynna Blake, 20, and Blake’s 2-year-old son, Dayan, were found in an apartment in Rock Falls.

That same day, Randall was found behind a Galesburg grocery store 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.

Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Atterberry told jurors during closing arguments that Sheley killed Randall because Sheley was on the run from the law and needed money and new transportation that wouldn’t be reported missing quickly.

“He had needs and he was hell-bent on satisfying those needs no matter what. And Ronald was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Atterberry said.

Defense attorney Jeremy Karlin told jurors the state did not provide conclusive evidence that proved his client guilty. He contended DNA and fingerprints were not necessarily accurate. He also questioned whether the prosecution influenced witnesses in identifying Sheley. He said witnesses were able to identify Sheley simply because he was the man sitting at the defense counsel table.

Sheley has pleaded not guilty in all eight killings but told a judge in September 2009 he wanted to admit guilt in Randall’s death, only to change his mind two months later.

Sheley is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 18.

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