A man charged with first degree murder in Morgan County will now represent himself at trial.
21 year old Dustin Finlaw’s motion to waive counsel and defend himself pro se was accepted by 7th Circuit Associate Judge Jack Davis II in Morgan County Court this morning. Prior to the granting of the motion, Judge Davis re-admonished Finlaw on all charges, explained to Finlaw his responsibilities in his own defense, and reminded him of the maximum penalties he faces on all charges.
Finlaw had prepared a written statement entered into court this morning saying that he and Morgan County Public Defender Tom Piper had a conflict of interest in the case. Finlaw told Piper that he refused to plead insanity in the stabbing death of Robert Utter in Meredosia in 2018. Finlaw indicated in the letter that he would aid his own defense by presenting evidence and multiple witnesses to show that he was not guilty.
Finlaw then asked the court to grant him standby counsel in the case to help him navigate what he characterized as “nuances of the criminal justice system.” Judge Davis granted the motion and appointed Piper as standby counsel in the case. Finlaw disagreed with the appointment, again citing the conflict of interest. Judge Davis said that Piper, by order of the court, would have to comply with the appointment. Piper will now only act on impetus of Finlaw and will not have a voice in the courtroom for the remainder of the trial.
Piper indicated to the court that he will be turning over full discovery evidence and documents in the case to Finlaw by Tuesday of next week.
Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll then filed a motion for a DNA swab for DNA comparison on some evidence gathered at the scene of the crime. Finlaw answered that he had previously given his DNA after his arrest in 2018 and and had no objection to the motion by the state.
Judge Davis granted the state’s motion and then set the first pre-trial hearing for July 15th at 1:30PM in Morgan County Court. Finlaw faces first degree murder charges along with charges of aggravated assault on two police officers, resisting arrest, and obstructing justice through destruction of evidence. He could face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of the murder and 3-7 years in prison for the remaining charges.