Katfish ponders: A true-crime blogger in the 'Burg
By Mike Kroll
The Zephyr, Galesburg, Ill., November 5, 2009
There are few places guaranteed to offer compelling drama in a real-life setting. One such place is a criminal courtroom in the midst of a capital murder trial, or even its preliminary stages. While this is typically the haunt of lawyers, judges and the press plus the victim's family and friends it is also common to find the courtroom junkies. In jurisdictions like Knox County there are very few actual criminal trials (as the vast majority of criminal cases are plead out) but every once in a while there is that scandalous and ghastly crime that captures the imaginations of people even continents away, the alleged murder spree of Nicholas Sheley IS one of those cases.
Sheley stands accused of a weekend spree of murders in June 2008 that took place in two states and left eight bodies, including that of a Galesburg man found behind the East Main Street Hy-Vee food store. It is now 17 months since the crimes and Sheley's arrest and the accused currently calls the Knox County Jail home as he awaits trial for the bludgeoning death of Ronald Randall. During his incarceration in the jail, Sheley managed to get into a major fight this past April so his first Knox County trial and conviction wasn't for Randall's murder.
As Sheley was sentenced to seven years in prison last week one of the most avid spectators in that courtroom was Kathy Fisher of Knoxville. Fisher is well known among on-line crime fans as Katfish Ponder because of the blog she created (katfishponders.blogspot.com) where she has followed the Sheley case closer than many newspapers and reports in detail to her loyal readers.
“I have been interested in crime stories ever since I was a kid reading those true crime magazines,” explains Fisher. “As an adult I experienced some major health issues that forced me to retire early but I still needed a constructive way to spend my time and apply my mind.”
As she recuperated Fisher began to watch the do-it-yourself cable TV channels and soon she was into remodeling her home. “But I quickly discovered that remodeling was expensive and physically demanding and then my husband had some major health problems of his own. I needed another hobby and I turned to Court TV.”
Fisher was quickly hooked. First on the compelling courtroom drama and then on the detailed true crime blogs she discovered on the Internet. She found out that she could literally immerse herself in all the details of a criminal event. She got to know criminals, victims, lawyers, police officers and judges as they played out their roles in the crimes she followed on television and the Internet. She would get so intimately involved with the cases that she found gavel-to-gavel coverage of some to be more emotionally wrenching than even she could bear.
“My husband thinks I'm kind of crazy watching all these trials on TV and the Internet and then going to the courthouse to follow Sheley. He sees all this as dark and depressing and says he will stick with his old westerns. But he understands that this is my hobby.”
Before Sheley's arrest and the subsequent hearings in Knox County Circuit Court Fisher had never attended an actual court proceeding in person. She had watched hours upon hours of televised courtroom activity on Court TV until that cable channel redefined itself last year. It was then that she first began watching streaming video of courtroom action over the Internet, something that still captures much of her time. “There was nothing like the 'in the courtroom feel' of televised trials until I began attending real courtroom trials myself.” But almost no one has been a more dedicated attendee of the many various hearings regarding Sheley than Fisher.
“From the beginning family and friends of Ronald Randall have conscientiously attended hearings along with a number of regular newspaper, radio and television reporters. I have come to know all the principals involved in the Sheley case, his defense lawyers, the prosecuting attorneys, and the judges. I try to take meticulous notes in the courtroom and I have done a lot of legal research so I now feel pretty comfortable with the legal jargon. I want my blog to be an accurate and objective record of what goes on in court and to that end I try to keep my own feelings out of it as much as possible.”
“I see myself as sort of the thirteenth juror and I eagerly wait for the next development in the case. We haven't even gotten to the main trial yet and I have already attended more hearing than I can count and read nearly all of the legal paperwork that has been exchanged between the parties. I have learned that getting this involved in a court case is not an inexpensive matter as I must pay for copies of paperwork-- but it is still less expensive than redecorating.”
Fisher started her blog on August 30, 2008 and now 14 months later she has attracted quite a following. “I find myself spending lots of time just looking at the statistics of visitors to my site and of the over 10,000 unique visitors more than one-quarter regularly return. I want to do a good job for those that read my blog and yeah, I want to keep increasing those readers too.”
Many involved in the legal system become cynical and jaded and begin to question just how often justice is actually done in America's court system, but not Kathy Fisher. “I'm not always happy with the system but I do believe that most of the time the system works and I don't have any doubt that justice will be done in the Sheley case. Hung juries are one of my pet peeves but my biggest problem with the system is all the delays. In too many cases I have found that these delays are more for the comfort and convenience of judges and attorneys than legal necessities of the process. Delayed justice is better than no justice be we could do better.