A murder trial can now proceed after a ruling on mental fitness was handed down in Morgan County Court today.
21-year-old Dustin Finlaw of Meredosia was found mentally fit to stand trial in Morgan County Court this afternoon. Finlaw is facing charges of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of 42-year-old Robert L. Utter that occurred in May 2018 in Meredosia.
Morgan County Circuit Judge Chris Reif gave his ruling today after hearing an argument from Public Defender Tom Piper that although Finlaw does in fact understand the charges against him and court process, he says Finlaw is not fit to fulfill the second prong of the state statute in his ability to assist in his defense.
Finlaw originally was found to be unfit for trial in October 2018 after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, and then later was found fit by the Department of Human Services in October of 2019. After being restored to fitness, Finlaw was moved from Chester Mental Health Center to the Morgan County Jail.
Piper argued that Finlaw has continued to be non-medically compliant in taking medication prescribed to treat his condition and that he continues to experience visual and audible hallucinations from not taking his medication. Piper says Finlaw only complied while at the Chester facility in order to be moved back to the Morgan County Jail.
Finlaw testified during last week’s hearing that he was fit to stand trial and said he thought he took his medication about 80% of the time. Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll says ultimately, it was the testimony during last week’s hearing that lead to the court’s decision.
“The evidence that was introduced into the hearing last week was basically two different experts disagreeing. Then the defendant took the stand and I think that the defendant’s answers to the questions carried the day as far as whether or not the court felt that he was fit to proceed to trial.
Based on the demeanor and the testimony of the defendant, I believe the state met its burden and clearly, the judge and the court agreed and the case is now set to move forward.”
In his ruling, Judge Reif advised Finlaw that he should continue to retain Public Defender Piper as his attorney, citing a previous comment by the defendant that he had considered defending himself.
Reif also strongly advised Finlaw to take his prescribed medication so he has close to 30 days of continued medical compliance by the preliminary hearing on April 20th.