The Dustin Finlaw murder trial got underway this morning in Morgan County Court.
Opening statements in the trial began just after 9:30 this morning.
Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll told the jury the evidence will allegedly show that on the night of May, 24th, 2018, the then-18 year old Finlaw stabbed 42 year old Robert L. Utter to death in Meredosia. Noll also alleges Finlaw and Utter knew each other and had met through the online apps Badoo and Grindr previously, and that evidence from Utter’s phone and at the crime scene will show that Finlaw was present at the scene and committed the murder.
Finlaw who is representing himself, claims that the prosecution’s case is “circumstantial and consequential” and that another man was present that night who stabbed Utter to death in his own vehicle.
Finlaw alleges that he was questioned by law enforcement while under duress and was suffering from PTSD after witnessing the murder.
After opening arguments, the state began its case by calling Morgan County Sheriff’s Deputy Alan Potter followed by Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigator Erin Bowers, and Jacksonville Police Detective Kyle Chumley during the morning session.
Potter gave a brief timeline of securing the crime scene and preliminary investigations while he was assigned to patrol in Meredosia the morning the murder was discovered.
Bowers and Chumley provided testimony on both physical and forensic evidence gathered during the investigation.
After mid-day, the state called Illinois State Police Captain Troy Phillips of the Division of Criminal Investigation for Zone 4. Phillips’ testimony was interjected with 3 videos taken of questioning with Finlaw on the day of and the day after the murder.
The first video shown to the jury was an initial questioning at the Meredosia Police Department in which Finlaw told police that he was at home at the time of the murder and had only heard of a murder in Meredosia through his mother the afternoon proceeding the time frame of the slaying. The video also depicts Finlaw breaking his phone and struggling with police.
The second video taken the following day shows Finlaw apologizing to police saying he had gone outside of his home for a jog near where the murder had allegedly taken place. He said that he had panicked when police arrived at his home, and didn’t know what to say to them, and didn’t want the crime to be pinned on him. Finlaw also denied having contact with Utter on the Grindr app despite police presenting him with evidence he had spoken with Utter’s profile on the app.
The third interview shows Finlaw uncontrollably sobbing saying that he admitted to knowing Utter through Grindr and that he was meeting up Utter to have sex at Finlaw’s house later in the day. Finlaw tells police in the video that another man was also present in Utter’s vehicle when Utter picked him up before the time of the murder. The name of the occupant went by the name of “Darren,” according to Finlaw, and that “Darren” was the perpetrator of the crime. Finlaw told police at the time that he was scared and ran off after Darren attacked Utter, stabbing him. Finlaw claimed at the time he didn’t want to call police or tell police about being a witness because he was scared it would reveal to his mother that he was bi-sexual. Phillips and Bowers can be seen in the video telling Finlaw that they know “Darren” doesn’t exist and they believe that police have enough evidence to prove to a jury that he should be convicted of murder. Bowers at one point in the video can be seen asking Finlaw why he committed the crime.
The video concluded just before 5PM today. Visiting Judge Jack Davis III dismissed the jury shortly thereafter, with the court officially adjourning at approximately 5:15.
Phillips is supposed to continue testimony with a series of more videos as the state continues its case tomorrow at 9AM.
Jeremy Coumbes assisted in the gathering of this report.