OTTAWA, Ill. — An Illinois appeals court has ruled that a judge falling asleep during a murder trial doesn’t warrant a retrial of the defendant in the case.
The Illinois Appellate Court panel in Ottawa said Whiteside County Judge Jeffrey O’Connor’s alleged nap was harmless as long as he wasn’t sleeping during crucial evidence or motions during Nicholas Sheley’s 2014 trial. Sheley was on trial for the murder of four people in Rock Falls in what was a murder spree that left six dead in Illinois and two in Missouri.
O’Connor allegedly fell asleep while the lights were dim and security camera footage was being played for the jury. O’Connor denied the allegations.
“If I was not looking at the video, that does not mean that I was not listening and hearing everything that was being said,” said O’Connor.
Sheley, who is serving eight consecutive life sentences, sought a new trial because he alleged O’Connor repeatedly napped.
“Of course it should be automatic reversal if the judge falls asleep,” said Sheley’s attorney, Steve Greenberg. “It sends an awful message to the jurors that whatever is going on is just not important.”
Appellate Judge Mary O’Brien also disagreed with the majority, citing a Cook County murder conviction that was dismissed after the judge left the bench during a trial to take a phone call from another judge.
“A judge cannot be actively present on the bench when he is asleep,” O’Brien said.
The appeals court ruled the evidence against Sheley was overwhelming and that O’Connor napping had no effect on the trial.