Day 3 of the Dustin Finlaw murder trial resumed this morning in Morgan County Court with multiple witnesses called to testify by the prosecution.
The prosecution questioned multiple agents with the Illinois State Police, who provided testimony that a knife believed to be the murder weapon was found in the fork of a tree near the Naples Boat Dock parking lot where investigators say Robert Utter was stabbed while sitting in the driver’s seat of his Ford Escape. Blood on the knife blade was later found to be that of Utter’s through DNA testing, and no other blood profiles were found on the knife.
The Prosecution then called forensic pathologist Dr. Nathan Patterson to the stand who testified that Utter had been stabbed a total of 13 times, with one of the injuries on the neck to be a slashing cut. Dr. Patterson said one of the stab wounds pierced through Utter’s left jugular artery and confirmed that the red-handled knife recovered from the tree was consistent with the wounds and could very likely be the murder weapon.
State Police Special Agents also testified that a four-piece set of knives matching the murder weapon was found at the home of Beverly Castelburry who is Finlaw’s mother and where he lived at the time of the murder. When obtained by investigators, only the red-handled knife was missing from the set of four individually colored knives.
Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll rested the prosecution’s case when court resumed after lunch. Finlaw began his defense by first calling his uncle Albert Orr to the stand. There were many pauses in between Finlaw’s questions as he was objected with hearsay from the state. After an approximate five-minute recess, Finlaw cleared up his questions and continued questioning Orr, asking about a FitBit fitness watch that he had sold his uncle.
Finlaw also asked his uncle about his interview with Special Agent Hardin of the Illinois State Police, asking about the nature of those questions. Or said the conversation with Hardin lasted about twenty-five minutes focusing on the FitBit and Finlaw’s personality.
Finlaw next called Chief Deputy Jamie Jackson of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office about a discussion Jackson had with a prisoner who was on the same cell block as Finlaw while incarcerated at the Morgan County Jail.
The inmate in question was Joshua Seager whose brother had contacted the Sheriff’s Office about a pending investigation that Seager may have had information on. In the course of the questioning about another investigation that Jackson was working, he was told by Seager that he had information about the Finlaw case.
Seeger had said that Finlaw had talked continuously about his case on the cell block. Finlaw asked about his whereabouts and his credibility. He asked if Seager should be considered as a witness in his case. During cross-examination of that questioning from Finlaw, State’s Attorney Gray Noll said he didn’t see any scenario where he would put Josh Seager on the stand in any trial.
Next, Finlaw recalled Illinois State Police Agent Kevin Kaufmann to the stand who said he had no knowledge of Seager’s intentions about offering information about Finlaw’s case. He said that Seager did give specifics about the case, including saying that Finlaw had told Seager that he had stabbed Utter in the neck.
Seager was giving specifics about the case that someone on the street wouldn’t know, according to Kaufmann. During redirect, Finlaw asked Kaufmann if he was aware if particulars about the case being out on social media, to which Kaufmann said no and that he was not a social media person.
The final witness in Finlaw’s defense was his own biological mother Beverly Castelburry. Finlaw asked about her recalling an interview with Kaufmann in 2018 in which Kaufmann came to Castleburry’s house inquiring about missing knives, and also asked about Finlaw’s character.
During that examination, Castleberry said her son walked around as if he had a chip on his shoulder as a teenager and was a bit of a loaner and not a people person like her. She did say that he was artistic and never really had a big problem with anyone and that she didn’t believe that he would ever kill anyone. She did say that he was mostly articulate.
Castleberry began to break down on the stand when she started discussing the murder weapon and how it was discovered. She said police didn’t lead her to believe anything about her son and his involvement in the case. She said that when she spoke with her son at the Morgan County Jail shortly after he was incarcerated, that he was never much of a crier, but did offer information about possible testimony in his own defense.
However, an incriminating statement did come about in that testimony when Finlaw asked her if he was an honest person. Castleberry said, “I would say you are a very honest person, but you have lied to me in the past.” Noll provided no cross-examination and Finlaw provided no redirect. He rested his case at approximately 3:21 pm with no rebuttal case from the state.
Closing arguments are set to be heard at 9 am Monday. Jury instructions were tendered later on in the afternoon, as well as post-trial media instructions concerning photographs and video.
30 minutes of closing arguments by the state are expected to begin the final day of the case on Monday. There will be portions of a video shown, and Dustin Finlaw has given no indication on what his closing arguments will be, or if he decides to tender any.