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updated: 2/24/2012 5:43 PM

Judge approves use of cameras at Sheley trial

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  • Nicholas Sheley is accused of bludgeoning eight people, including a 2-year-old boy, to death.

      Nicholas Sheley is accused of bludgeoning eight people, including a 2-year-old boy, to death.
    Associated Press

  • Nicholas Sheley, 32, in yellow, listens during a pretrial hearing Friday at the Whiteside County courthouse in Morrison, Ill. Judge Jeffrey O'Connor set a new trial date of June 11 and also ruled he'll allow cameras in the courtroom in a case that'll be a test of a new courtroom-camera policy. On Friday morning the judge approved the use of cameras in the pretrial hearing.

      Nicholas Sheley, 32, in yellow, listens during a pretrial hearing Friday at the Whiteside County courthouse in Morrison, Ill. Judge Jeffrey O'Connor set a new trial date of June 11 and also ruled he'll allow cameras in the courtroom in a case that'll be a test of a new courtroom-camera policy. On Friday morning the judge approved the use of cameras in the pretrial hearing.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

MORRISON, Ill. -- A judge in northwestern Illinois said Friday he will allow camera coverage at the second trial of a man accused of killing eight people in two states.

In doing so, Judge Jeffery O'Connor rejected arguments from both prosecutors and the defense that media scrutiny would make it impossible to pick an impartial jury in a third trial for Nicholas Sheley.

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At the same pretrial hearing, O'Connor also granted a request from Sheley's defense attorney to delay the trial's March 5 start date to give him more time to prepare for what he said was a more complicated case than he had anticipated. The new court date is June 11.

O'Connor's decision to allow cameras whenever it the trial starts means it will, after all, be the first big test of the Illinois Supreme Court's recent decision to experiment with cameras in state courts. The high court said that if all goes well, it would eventually pull Illinois from of the group of 14 states that still ban extensive media access in courts.

The Whiteside County judge told attorneys that Sheley's case has already garnered so much attention since his alleged killing spree in Illinois and Missouri over several days in June 2008, so any level of media attention now wouldn't make it any harder to pick a jury.

"I don't think having extended (media) coverage in this trial ... will make one bit of difference," he said.

O'Connor said he had confidence, too, that jurors would fulfill their duty to give Sheley a fair trial, and will rely only on evidence presented in court and not anything they may have heard outside of court.

"Nobody will be more aware of the gravity (of the situation) than the people sitting over there in the jury box," O'Connor said, pointing to his right. "We just can't assume that the people in that jury box have lived in a vacuum."

A sometimes-brooding Sheley sat at a defense table in a bright yellow jail clothes -- shackles looped around his waist and binding his hands. He struggled to lift his chained arms to grab a pen and jot notes.

Sheley is accused of bludgeoning eight people, including a 2-year-old boy, to death. The trial at issue Friday was for the death of Russell Reed, 93, of Sterling.

The judge surprised reporters by allowing them to take still photographs at a Friday's hearing. Attending media hadn't brought photographers along because O'Connor said earlier cameras would be barred. So reporters, including those from The Associated Press, used cellphones to photograph the courtroom scene, including the shackled defendant.

It was the first time photos have been taken at a high-profile case inside an Illinois courtroom since the high court's decision.

Defense attorney Jeremy Karlin said after Friday's hearing that he doesn't oppose the camera experiment in principle, but he said his client's case was unique because he would be tried again later on similar charges.

"This is the wrong case to experiment on," he said.

State's Attorney Gary Spencer, who argued the same point the judge Friday, said he accepted the O'Connor's decision and would plan for a trial with cameras in court.

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