GALESBURG, Ill. (AP) -- As the first trial began Monday for an Illinois man accused of killing eight people during a 2008 crime spree, the judge told would-be jurors that it could last up to two months.
Dozens of witnesses could testify at the trial for Nicholas Sheley, 32, in the death of Galesburg retiree Ronald Randall. Also, Knox County Judge James Stewart heard arguments from attorneys Monday over the use of autopsy and crime scene photos that Stewart said he should have heard long ago.
Jury selection began with about 100 potential jurors being given questionnaires. Stewart told them the trial could take anywhere from three to eight weeks.
"We have no way of knowing how long this trial will take," Stewart said.
Sheley, of Sterling, is charged with first-degree murder and other crimes in the June 2008 death of Randall. Prosecutors contend Sheley met the 65-year-old Randall at a Galesburg gas station in the middle of a crime spree, beat him to death and stole his pickup truck. It was eventually found in St. Louis, the bed and cab thick with blood.
Sheley is also charged with killing five other people in Illinois and two in Missouri. They include 93-year-old Russell Reed of Sterling, who was found in the trunk of his car; 29-year-old Brock Branson, 25-year-old Kenneth Ulve, 20-year-old Kilynna Blake and her 2-year-old son, Dayan, all found in an apartment in Rock Falls; and a Sherwood, Ark., couple, Jill and Tom Estes, both 54, who were found dead in Festus, Mo., south of St. Louis.
Sheley has pleaded not guilty in all eight deaths.
Sheley arrived at the courthouse early Monday wearing a yellow prison jumpsuit -- he's serving a sentence for assaulting jail guards in Knox County as he awaited the Randall trial -- but appeared in court in khaki pants and a blue dress shirt.
Sheley's case has been punctuated by courtroom outbursts in which he's yelled at judges and criticized his attorneys, but Stewart decided last week that he will appear without shackles. He wears a stun belt beneath his clothes that jurors won't be aware of that will allow court security officers to deliver sharp shocks.
Some of Randall's relatives were also in court, seated near prosecutors.
Before jurors entered, prosecutors dropped seven of the original 17 charges against Sheley in Randall's death, including three counts of first-degree murder. The charges against him still include seven murder charges.
The judge told potential jurors that having formed opinions about the case -- which has been the subject of frequent media coverage -- wouldn't necessarily disqualify them from duty.
"We are looking for an informed group of people to decide the jury in this case," Stewart said. "Not a stupid group of people."
Also Monday, attorneys argued whether photos from Randall's autopsy and the crime scene should be used at trial. The photos showed extensive injuries to Randall's head, back, hands, legs and torso.
Stewart, before hearing the attorneys' arguments, told them they should have made them and allowed him to make a decision long ago.
Stewart decided some of the more grisly photos will not be allowed.