Pick a charge, any charge: the 17-count indictment against alleged killer Nicholas Sheley


by Mike Kroll


The family and friends of Ronald Randall are distressed not only by his brutal murder but by the seeming randomness of it. There is no reason to believe that Randall and his assailant had ever met before the evening of June 28th when Randall was assaulted as he vacuumed his pickup truck. His death apparently the result of being conveniently available and driving a nice truck. On Monday, one month to the day following Randall's murder, a 17-count Knox County Grand Jury indictment. All 17 counts charged against Nicholas Sheley are felonies and 15 of them are class-X felonies. They include charges and circumstances that if proven would make Sheley eligible for the death penalty in Illinois but Knox County State's Attorney John Pepmeyer has not yet announced his decision on whether or not to pursue this as a capital case.

Specifically Sheley has been charged with ten counts of first-degree murder (specifying various sets of circumstances), two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated vehicular hijacking, one count of armed robbery, another count of robbery and finally a count of possession of a stolen vehicle. The apparent rationale is for Pepmeyer to preserve all of his prosecutorial options while simultaneously painting Sheley as a cold, calculating killer who allegedly bludgeoned Randall to death just to steal his truck.

A long list of charges provides Pepmeyer with ample room to accept a plea agreement from Sheley but to date the alleged spree killer has shown no inclination to desire such a deal. Reportedly Sheley has steadfastly refused to be interviewed by police or prosecutors and he has pled not guilty before the Circuit Court. The supposition is that given his decades of experience in Whiteside County Sheley is confident of successfully circumnavigating prosecution. This is despite a wealth of forensic evidence against him not only here in Knox County but also in the two other counties where he allegedly bludgeoned seven others to death in an equally brutal manner.

Although Randall was only murdered once the array of charges represent a variety of ways that the crime may have been committed and encompasses differing sets of circumstances. At this time police are unaware of any eye witnesses to Randall's murder itself but they do have ample evidence showing Sheley driving Randall's stolen pickup truck immediately following the altercation at Southard's Car Wash on East Main Street. Witnesses did see Sheley driving the truck and wearing bloody clothing. Blood, tissue and hair from three of the alleged victims has been identified in the truck along with Sheley's fingerprints. The stolen truck Sheley drove into Galesburg was found abandoned at the car wash hours after the murder and forensic evidence can apparently tie Sheley to that vehicle as well.

Among the factors that make this a death-eligible case are Randall's age, the “exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty,” and that Randall died in the course of another violent forcible felony (hijacking and kidnapping). It is highly likely that a number of these counts will be dropped prior to trial as they are predicated on somewhat differing theories of the crime but the broad scope of charges leveled at this time permits Pepmeyer many options and plenty of room to accept a plea that would still keep Sheley behind bars for most of his life if convicted.

Sheley's next court date will be his arraignment on August 6th. Pepmeyer will then have up to two months to determine whether or not to seek the death penalty. Meanwhile Sheley will remain in the Knox County Jail except in the unlikely event that he can present ten percent of the now $10 million bond set by Judge Steven Bordner.