Josh Sheley
Josh Sheley (Contributed photo)

MORRISON, Ill. — Nicholas Sheley and his girlfriend were scouting for scrap metal to pay for their upcoming wedding when they first encountered Russell Reed.

Holly Sheley, now married to Nicholas, testified Monday that the elderly farmer had allowed them and Nicholas’ brother, Joshua, to take scrap metal from his property in the spring of 2008.

Prosecutors say several weeks later, Reed, 93, became the first of Nicholas Sheley’s eight victims in a weeklong killing spree, and that his brother helped conceal evidence of the murder.

A bench trial began Monday in Whiteside County Circuit Court for Joshua Sheley, 32, who is charged with concealment of a homicidal death and obstructing justice. Nicholas Sheley, who has yet to stand trial on any of the eight counts of first-degree murder he faces, is expected to testify on his brother’s behalf during the trial, which is scheduled to last until Wednesday.

Holly Sheley said she, Nicholas and Joshua were driving around looking for scrap in late April or early May 2008 when they stopped at a home near Reed’s rural Sterling farm house to inquire about an old satellite dish Holly had seen.

The owner told her another man who lived nearby — Reed — had some scrap metal he might let them have.

Holly Sheley said they made at least three trips to Reed’s home, collecting metal roofing from the top of barn, an old trailer and a freezer, among other items.

One of Reed’s sons, Lyle Reed, testified he last saw his father between 2 and 3 p.m. Monday, June 23, 2008. He said he was in his tractor on Luther Road when he passed his father, who was driving his 2003 Buick Century.

Prosecutors later showed a surveillance video from a Casey’s General Store in Sterling that showed Nicholas Sheley entering the store at 9:35 p.m. that day to buy beer and cigarettes with what appeared to be blood stains on his shorts and T-shirt.

Amber Gonzales of Sterling testified that Nicholas Sheley showed up that same night at the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, whom she has since married, and their infant son.

“There was blood all over him,” she said.

Gonzales said her husband asked Sheley about the blood.

“He said that he just got done killing somebody, then he laughed,” she said.

Gonzales said Sheley said he was kidding, and that he had been fishing and got blood on his clothes while cleaning the fish he caught.

Eric Smith, a cousin to Joshua and Nicholas Sheley, said Nicholas Sheley told him the same story when he stopped at Smith’s home the next morning. Smith said Sheley was driving Buick that he later identified in a photo as the car belonging to Reed, and that he allowed Nicholas Sheley to take a shower at his house and gave him some clothes to wear. He said he believed Sheley took his bloody clothes with him.

Smith also said he, Nicholas Sheley, Joshua Sheley and Joshua’s girlfriend, Jenna Henson, drove to Chicago later Tuesday to buy cocaine, and that on the way, Nicholas Sheley said he had beaten someone  and taken items from that person.

When they returned to the Sterling-Rock Falls area around midnight, they stopped at the home of Brock Branson, who Smith said owed him money. Then Smith, Joshua Sheley and Henson left to find Smith’s girlfriend and go to Henson’s house, leaving Nicholas Sheley at Branson’s apartment, Smith said.

Branson was one of four people in a Rock Falls apartment police believe were killed a few days later by Nicholas Sheley.

Branson’s mother, Connie Branson, testified that she had a cell phone she let Brock use. Whiteside County State’s Attorney Gary Spencer said Joshua Sheley made repeated calls to that phone trying to reach Nicholas Sheley to tell him to go to Henson’s house and move Reed’s car, which they had parked there.

Lyle Reed said he stopped by his father’s house at 16664 Blue Goose Road around 9 a.m. June 24, but thought little of it when he looked in the garage and saw his father’s car was missing.

“I thought he was out for breakfast, like he always does,” Lyle Reed said.

When he went back to his father’s house the morning of June 26 and noticed his father’s car was gone again, he decided to investigate further. He found blood on the steps of the front porch, spots of blood in the kitchen, and the cap and glasses his father would never leave home without — but no sign of Russell Reed.

Lyle Reed said he called his brother, Don, and they thought their father might have fallen and hurt himself, then driven himself to the hospital in Sterling. When the hospital emergency room staff said they had not seen him, Lyle Reed said he called 911.

Police began investigating the crime scene at the house, where they found Nicholas Sheley’s DNA on a cigarette butt in the kitchen, according to Spencer, and a green Cadillac registered to Nicholas and Holly Sheley.

Later that day, they found Reed’s car at Henson’s house in Sterling. Reed’s body was found in the trunk. Spencer said Joshua Sheley’s DNA was found on a water bottle that was on the floor of Reed’s car.

Smith testified that he had been charged with being an armed habitual criminal and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, but had reached an agreement with prosecutors to receive only six years in prison in exchange for his testimony in Joshua Sheley’s case.

Henson also was charged with two counts of obstructing justice, but those charges later were dropped.

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