Debate on Mental Fitness Slows Finlaw Trial

By Benjamin Cox on August 28, 2020 at 10:40am

A Meredosia man’s first-degree murder case is being held up in Morgan County court over debates on his mental fitness. 20 year old Dustin Finlaw was in Morgan County Court on Tuesday afternoon on status of his mental fitness in regards to the murder of 42 year old Robert L. Utter that occurred in May 2018 in Meredosia.

Utter, an EMT for Schuyler County, was found dead inside of a vehicle from multiple stab wounds on Montgomery Street in Meredosia at 7:54 a.m. on May 24th, 2018. Finlaw also is facing charges of aggravated assault on two police officers, resisting arrest and obstructing justice by destroying evidence in relation to his later arrest in connection to the homicide.

Finlaw originally was found to be unfit for trial in October 2018. Finlaw then was found fit by the Department of Human Services in October last year. After being restored to fitness, Finlaw was moved from Chester Mental Health Center to the Morgan County Jail. When he was moved, Defense Attorney Tom Piper raised concerns about Finlaw’s fitness changing at the time and asked to have him re-evaluated by a psychiatrist which was denied at the time by Judge Chris Reif.

A trial for Finlaw was originally supposed to take place in April, but due to COVID-19 concerns the trial was continued. State’s Attorney Gray Noll says that Finlaw’s case now is being continued again due to questions surrounding his fitness: “As it stands right now, we have two contradictory opinions. The Department of Human Services evaluated Mr. Finlaw and determined that he was fit. Then, he through his attorney hired a private psychiatrist who evaluated him and determined that he was not fit to stand trial. Ultimately, the state is going to hire their own expert to evaluate Mr. Finlaw for the terms of fitness and that should be done by the next court date. We should be able to proceed one way or the other on the issues of fitness.” Court records show that Finlaw’s DHS mental fitness evaluation was entered into court record in October 2019.

Noll says one of two actions may take place if there is not an agreement on fitness: “One, the parties could stipulate to the contents of a report that would indicate that he is fit or that he is not fit. If the parties stipulate to the contents of the report that he’s fit, then the case would proceed like any other case. If it’s determined that he is unfit, he would then be transferred to a secure facility in the Department of Human Services until he is fit. Ultimately, if the parties can’t agree and stipulate to a report, then a formal hearing would be heard in front of the circuit judge. In which case, [the defense] would present evidence on the issue of fitness, and then he, through his attorney, would have that ability to present evidence.”

Finlaw’s next hearing is scheduled for September 29th at 1:30PM in Morgan County Court.