Killing spree suspect appears in court

Michelle Anstett

A man suspected in a killing spree that left eight people dead will return to a Knox County Court on July 21 after waiving his right to a public defender Thursday afternoon.

Nicholas T. Sheley, 28, Sterling, who faces charges in Knox County in the death of Ronald Randall, 65, Galesburg, appeared in standard orange jail attire before Knox County Judge William Davis. Knox County officials transported Sheley to the Knox County jail sometime Thursday morning, picking him up from a Madison County jail.

Sheley was escorted in the west door of the Knox County Courthouse shortly before his 2 p.m. hearing, walking the roughly 10 feet to the courtroom door under the watchful eye of the media. He took a seat against one wall, surrounded by four armed guards.

The court took a brief recess before proceeding with Sheley’s hearing. The accused took the opportunity to look around the packed courtroom, letting out a few deep breaths and bouncing his right foot up and down nervously.

He was then called to the bench to begin the hearing.

Davis carefully read Sheley each charge, asking him after each one if he understood them.

“Yes, sir,” Sheley answered politely, looking up from the papers which detailed the five counts.

Charges filed in Knox County are first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, theft and theft by possession. He could face a sentence between 20 and 60 years in prison for the crime. Sheley also faces charges in Whiteside County.

Several of Randall’s family members were present during the hearing, some sobbing quietly as the charges were read.

The death penalty is an option on the first-degree murder charge, but has not officially been named as a potential sentence. Under Illinois law, state’s attorneys have a certain period of time in which to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty against a defendant.

Davis then notified the defendant that Knox County State’s Attorney John Pepmeyer had previously requested bond be set at $1 million. Sheley told a Madison County judge Wednesday he would not be able to post the $100,000 necessary to gain his freedom.

“I’m going to allow that bond to stand,” Davis said.

Sheley was next advised that he has the right to representation by a public defender, free of charge, but could retain a private attorney if he so chose.

“I’ve had an opportunity to speak with my lawyer who has represented me in other matters,” he mumbled, reading from a small piece of paper, “and we believe that, because of the seriousness of the charges, we’re attempting to locate counsel who can better represent me.”

Sheley told Davis he may not be able to obtain a private defender for one month, a time period Davis explained may interfere with holding a speedy first hearing. Sheley said he understood, but still wants to proceed with the hearing.

Davis wanted to be sure Sheley understood what he was refusing.

“I’m compelled to set this for a preliminary hearing whether you have an attorney or not,” Davis said. “If you change your mind and want a public defender, one will be appointed quickly for you.”

Sheley will be back in a Knox County Court at 2 p.m. July 21.

Pepmeyer said, even though Knox County was the first to press official charges against Sheley and to hold a preliminary hearing, it is not certain whether he will remain here or if he will first be tried here.

“That’s under discussion,” he told members of the media following the roughly 10-minute hearing. “A final decision hasn’t been made in that regard.”

Sheley is suspected in the deaths of eight people in two states — all by blunt-force trauma to the head. He was the subject of a two-state manhunt and was caught in a Granite City bar Tuesday evening.

Authorities have been searching for him since a June 14 home invasion in which Sheley reportedly forced a woman to write several checks before departing with an undisclosed amount of money.

Police believe that sometime between 5 and 8 p.m. June 28 Sheley encountered Randall at Southard’s Car Wash. He then bludgeoned Randall, left his body behind the Hy-Vee Food Store and stole the man’s 2007 Chevrolet Silverado.

Randall’s body was discovered by Hy-Vee employees around 12:15 p.m. Monday, after apparently lying there for almost 40 hours.

Michelle Anstett can be reached at