Battaglia case: No jail for woman who kept 25-year secret

Sheila Reed's December 2014 mug shot from the Kent County Correctional Facility.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In the days after their son was robbed and beaten to death 25 years ago, Jerry and Gail Battaglia went door-to-door in the Eastown neighborhood, looking for answers.

They sat across from Sheila Reed, who was 32 at the time.

Joel Battaglia, 23, an Aquinas College student and aspiring teacher, was killed directly in front of Reed’s home on Lake Drive SE in June 1990.

A file courtesy photo of Joel Battaglia.
(A file courtesy photo of Joel Battaglia.)

“She was just a very cold person,” Jerry Battaglia said of Reed. “It was pretty obvious she didn’t want us there, she didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to say anything.”

“All she said was that she looked out the window, saw some scuffling and went back to bed.”

She kept her secret for 25 years — because, she has said, she was afraid of the killer.

Then Grand Rapids police cold-case detectives reopened the investigation. They charged Reed and two others with perjury, shaking out the truth.

She admitted she witnessed the beating from inside her home, saw Aurelius Marshall jump into a car and that Marshall later told her he “beat up a white boy.”

On Thursday, Reed, now 57, was sentenced to five years on probation, including a year on an electronic tether, for not telling the truth sooner. She had pleaded guilty to perjury.

“Without Sheila, there is no case,” Gail Battaglia said.

A jury convicted Marshall, 56, of murder earlier this year and he was sentenced to life without parole.

Aurelias Marshall looks on as his defense makes opening statements in his murder trial. (June 2, 2015)
(Aurelias Marshall looks on as his defense makes opening statements in his murder trial. June 2, 2015)

After her testimony, Reed embraced the Battaglias.

“How do you explain that?” Jerry Battaglia said. “There we are with an arm around her.”

“When we saw Sheila walking out of the court, she’s a broken woman, that was our feelings at the time,” he continued.

She told them she finally decided to testify after watching the Battaglias in a 24 Hour News 8 report in January. The report showed the Christmas stocking they still hung for their son.

“She said when she saw that, it just pierced her heart and she knew she had to speak,” Battaglia’s mother, Gail Battaglia, said.

“God changed things,” Reed told 24 Hour News 8 on Thursday, after she was sentenced. “He works on people.”

“I just want to say to them that I will keep them in my prayers, and I’m very, very sorry. I can’t bring their son back. I wish they would forgive me for not coming forward,” she continued.

And they do.

“She isn’t the same person, and you embrace people where they are now,” Gail Battaglia said.

The Battaglias say they support the sentence that kept Reed from going to jail. They say a harsh sentence would have sent the wrong message:  That finally telling the truth will just get you locked up.

“I think it says it’s never too late to come forward,” Gail Battaglia said.

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