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Sheley trial

Holly Sheley testifies Thursday in the murder trial of her ex-husband, Nicholas T. Sheley, at the Rock Island County Justice Center.

Holly Sheley was scared.

Just after midnight on June 29, 2008, the 36-year-old woman was riding in a stolen pickup with her then-husband, Nicholas Sheley, through Whiteside County.

Just two days before, her husband was named as the prime suspect in a murder of an elderly Sterling farmer.

The passenger seat of the truck was cold and wet beneath her. She put her hand under her and saw that the wetness was blood, she testified Thursday on the final day of her ex-husband's third Illinois murder trial.

Holly Sheley was afraid to get out of the truck when Sheley stopped in the driveway of a vacant house in Lyndon, Ill.

“I felt like if something was going to happen, the grass on the way back (of the house) was pretty tall, so I didn’t know how I’d be found,” she testified.

It was a house she was familiar with. The couple had collected scrap metal from the homeowner to help pay for their May 10, 2008, wedding. The couple had been dating since 2004.

A short time later, she found herself behind a Rock Falls hotel near the Hennepin Canal. Sheley, armed with a bottle of Hennessey cognac and a Red Bull energy drink, asked his wife to sing to him three times.

His song choices were “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” She obliged, because she wanted to "keep the peace."

Sheley then told her that he wanted to have sex. Again, she obliged and lay down on a flannel shirt placed on the ground. Sheley had given her the shirt to wrap around her waist because the seat of her jeans was covered in blood, she testified.

That was the last night Holly Sheley would see her husband outside of jail or a courtroom.

At least an hour before the couple took what turned out to be their last ride together, Sheley brutally murdered Brock Branson, 29, Holly Sheley’s one-time boyfriend; Branson’s girlfriend, Kilynna Blake, 20; her 2-year-old son, Dayan; and Kenneth Ulve, 25, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors say Sheley, 34, ambushed the four sometime around 11 p.m. in their third-floor apartment at 1201 Ave. A in Rock Falls, Ill.

Their bodies were found two days later by Branson’s father, Dallas.

Prosecutors have said that Sheley killed the four in Rock Falls because he upset with Branson because he was having an affair with Holly Sheley.

Holly Sheley testified that her relationship with Branson, which ended in April 2007, was a sore subject between her and her husband.

They had been dating since 2006, the same time she was dating Sheley.

Around the time of their wedding, Sheley had asked her to delete Branson from her MySpace page, she testified Thursday.

The couple’s divorce became final in December.

Holly Sheley’s testimony was one of the most anticipated throughout the eight-day, high-profile trial at the Rock Island County Justice Center.

As his ex-wife testified, Sheley slowly rocked back and forth in his chair, a move he has done through most of the trial. He kept his eyes fixed on the table in front of him or stared straight ahead.

Holly Sheley kept her eyes on the prosecutors and occasionally glanced at photos projected on a large screen to the right of her.

Holly Sheley glanced over at Sheley briefly and pointed when she was asked to identify him.

Much of what she said in court Thursday was a repeat of testimony she gave in Sheley’s 2011 trial in Knox County and his 2012 trial in Whiteside County.

She testified Thursday that on June 23, 2008, the couple had driven to Rockford to get a $1,000 title loan on their car. On the way home, Holly Sheley bought her husband alcohol.

He took off in their car after they fought at her mother’s home in Mount Carroll, Ill.

That same day, Sheley killed Russell Reed, 93, of rural Sterling. His body was found three days later. The Sheleys' car was found behind a corn crib on Reed’s property.

Holly Sheley testified that around 11:30 p.m. June 28, she and the two children she shares with Sheley were at the home of her friend, Jessine Mondragon, in Sterling.

Sheley walked through the back door of Mondragon’s home and kissed and hugged their daughter, now 8.

Sheley then asked Holly, “Aren’t you going to get up and give me a hug?”

He then told Mondragon, “One hour,” and drew a finger across his throat, Holly Sheley testified.

He was wearing a gray Chicago Bears T-shirt and khaki shorts, she testified. Prosecutors say the shirt, as well as a red Dale Earnhardt Jr. jersey and a pair of khaki cargo shorts, belonged to Branson.

The DNA of the Sheleys, Ulve, Branson and Kilynna Blake was found on some of the items that were recovered in a Dumpster behind a gas station in Festus, Mo.

The clothing also had the DNA of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg, and Jill and Tom Estes, both 54, of Sherwood, Ark.

Sheley killed Randall around 8 p.m. June 28 and drove his truck to Rock Falls. He later drove the truck to Festus and killed the Esteses in the parking lot of their hotel on June 29, police say.

The Esteses were found behind the gas station Dumpster the next day.

Holly Sheley testified Thursday that after she and Nicholas finished having sex behind the hotel, he dropped her off near the home of his sister, Heidi.

Holly Sheley testified that she borrowed a pair of pants from Heidi Sheley and called Mondragon to pick her up. She and Mondragon later washed her bloody jeans, she testified.

Holly Sheley did not tell police about the incident until a year later and did so only after she was told that her DNA was found in Randall’s truck.

She testified Thursday that she was afraid of her husband because she knew that he was wanted for Reed’s murder and had been involved in a high-speed car chase two days earlier.

On the stand Thursday, Holly Sheley recalled an incident in March 2007 — a month before the break-up with Branson — that Sheley had called the house while Branson was there.

She testified that the two had a “heated” phone conversation and that Branson was “cursing” a lot.

Shortly after her wedding, she testified, she called Branson after finding his phone number in Sheley’s wallet. She then erased his number from her phone.

“I didn't want problems,” she testified. “There was no need for anything to be started.”

Branson’s sister, Jodi Fitzgerald, testified that she had picked him up from a motel where he had stayed the night with Holly Sheley in June 2008.

Sheley already is serving two life terms in the deaths of Reed and Randall.

He also faces trial in Missouri in the deaths of the Esteses.

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