A man convicted of Murder in Morgan County Court earlier this year has filed an appeal in the case.
22-year-old Dustin A. Finlaw was back in Morgan County Court this morning for a hearing on a pair of motions filed in his case. Finlaw was found guilty for the 2018 murder of 42-year-old Robert Utter in Meredosia back in January of this year.
Visiting Judge Jack Davis III sentenced Finlaw to 40 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections in June. Finlaw waived his right to an attorney and represented himself pro se during the trial.
During today’s hearing, Morgan County Public Defender Tom Piper, who was removed as council by the defendant following the guilty verdict, presented his case on a pair of post-trial motions.
Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll says the motions filed today were more or less a formality in the trial appeal process. “Today the court heard two motions, one was a motion for a new trial, the other was a motion to reconsider the sentence. They are both motions that procedurally have to be filed in order for the defendant to perfect his appeal.
So that was the main reason in my opinion the defendant filed these motions. They are both kind of pro-form motions if you are going to appeal the trial and sentence and they were both denied. Most trials that occur on felony cases are appealed in some fashion, and I would 99% of the murder trials are appealed in some fashion.”
Public Defender Piper said during arguments that Finlaw had been found unfit to stand trial previously due to his diagnosed schizophrenia, noting it was documented that Finlaw heard and listened to voices in his head that helped guide his decision-making and that Finlaw likely understood what was being said in the proceedings, but did not fully understand the breadth of what he would be required to do in representing himself.
Judge Davis ultimately ruled that he believed both then and now, that Finlaw was of sound mind to understand representing himself. Piper said following today’s hearing, that Finlaw will now have new representation through the appeal process.
“Mr. Finlaw’s next step is obviously an appeal. I will not be handling that, the Office of the Appellate Defender will be and we will see what they can get done.
We felt those motions needed to be filed to protect the record on appeal so that the defender would have as much opportunity to raise every possible issue.”
State’s Attorney Noll says depending on which track the appeal takes, it is a lengthy process and that there will not be another hearing in trial court for quite a while.