The spree killer caught in Granite City after eight murders agreed with the families of his victims that he deserved the death penalty, calling himself a monster.
Nicholas Sheley, 38, was convicted of six murders in Illinois and pleaded guilty earlier this month to two more in Missouri, bringing to an end a series of trials stemming from his killing spree in June 2008. Throughout his trials, Sheley had not spoken publicly.
But on Oct. 4, during his sentencing for the murders of Tom and Jill Estes, Sheley read a 20-minute statement during which he dropped to his knees to apologize for the murders, wept and begged for forgiveness.
On Monday, a 14-page handwritten copy of Sheley’s apology arrived in the mail at Sauk Valley Media, a newspaper in Whiteside County, near where his killing spree began. The newspaper said no address or explanation accompanied the letter, which offered contrition but few clues as to the motives of his killing spree.
In it, Sheley agreed with the victims’ families that he deserved the death penalty, which was dropped by Missouri prosecutors. He was ineligible for the death penalty for his Illinois crimes, as capital punishment had been eliminated from the law by that point.
“If ever there were circumstances that warranted a death sentence — from a legal perspective, I certainly would’ve qualified for having such a punishment imposed on me,” Sheley wrote. “In fact, it is what I fully anticipated taking place all along in this situation.”
He said that receiving a life sentence instead of the death penalty was not a relief for him.
He made extended reference to the film “The Shawshank Redemption,“ in particular a scene in which Morgan Freeman’s character says that he wishes he could go back in time and talk to his former self, the young man who committed murder.
“I am unable to go back in time and talk any sense into my troubled, mixed-up mind during that specific time,” Sheley wrote. “What I did nearly 10 years ago in taking the lives of people, among other things, was certainly wrong on every level, such terrible things to do, which were unjustified and completely uncalled for.”
Sheley called his crimes “cowardly,” and said he regretted every one. He wrote that when he was arrested and “reality had started to set in,” he intended to kill himself because he could not accept what he had allowed himself to become. “A monster indeed,” he wrote.
Sheley said he would take all back if he could, and offered his apologies to the families of his victims and his own family, as well as the law enforcement officers tasked with investigating his crimes and apprehending him on his killing spree. He said he had wanted to apologize earlier, but was advised not to by his attorneys. He had tried to change his pleas to guilty, but his attorneys advised him not to do so, he said, because they were trying to help him avoid the death penalty.
He named each of the people he had killed in his apologies. “Not a single one of you deserved to die by my hands, and not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could somehow reverse what I have done and bring you all back,” he wrote. “I hope in some way in the afterlife we’ll cross paths, so that I can apologize face-to-face.”
Sheley wrote that he had “absolutely no one to blame” for his actions, describing himself as a “very disgruntled and severely mixed-up individual” who was unhappy with his life. He wrote that his murders were irrational, split-second decisions, taking out his anger on people who did not deserve it.
But why did he kill?
“I know many people believe it was all about drugs and nothing more, and while it’s true — they did play a big part in my defective decision-making — that wasn’t the sole driving force behind my conduct,” Sheley wrote. Instead there were “many contributing factors,” he said, but none were an excuse.
In Sheley’s main trial in Morrison, Illinois, prosecutors contended that his killing spree was kicked off with the belief that one of his victims, Brock Branson, had been having an affair with Sheley’s wife. In a Rock Falls, Illinois apartment, Sheley beat Branson to death, along with Branson’s fiancee, Kilynna Blake; another friend, Kenneth Ulve; and Blake’s 2-year-old son, Dayan. All four were beaten to death with a hammer, hours after Sheley had bludgeoned two other people to death.
Later he came across the Estes couple in Festus, Missouri, beating them to death and dumping them behind a gas station. The couple’s dogs were found roaming, covered in blood, and other hotel guests called the police. Deputies followed the trail of blood 1.5 miles to the gas station.
A nationwide manhunt ended July 1, 2008, outside a Granite City tavern. Patrons had recognized him from media coverage and called the police while he was outside smoking a cigarette.
Sheley is serving six life sentences for the Illinois murders, and on Oct. 4 was sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of the Estes, as well as 75 years for two counts of armed criminal action.
“I don’t want only to be remembered by the death, destruction, and heartache I have caused,” he wrote. “I hope to somehow, in some way, reconcile with every single person I have ever offended.”