The first murder trial of the year in Morgan County is set to begin tomorrow with jury selection.
22 year old Dustin A. Finlaw will be defending himself against a host of charges, including first degree murder in front of visiting Sangamon County Judge Jack Davis III. Today, was the final pre-trial conference between Finlaw and the state to agree on statement of case and logistics for the trial.
Finlaw is accused of stabbing to death 42 year old Robert L. Utter in Meredosia in May 2018.
Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll says that getting the logistics finalized today on the arrangement of the courtroom and jury selection is a step to getting the trial completed in a timely fashion: “Having a jury trial in the age of Covid is a difficult thing to figure out. First and foremost, when we are calling in the jury, we want to make sure that they are safe. The best way to do that during today’s day and time is to socially distance them from not only the witnesses and the parties, but their fellow jurors as well. So, the set up of the courtroom looks a little different than it has for any other criminal jury trial that has proceeded here in Morgan County, but it is the best way we can ensure the safety of the jurors.”
During finalizing of the logistics, Finlaw placed an objection to having any media in the courtroom during the 5-day duration of the trial. Finlaw says that social media and public opinion will give rise to a false narrative and deny him the right to a fair trial. Judge Davis denied the motion to not allow any media in the courtroom, but has placed restrictions on video cameras and recording the trial.
Noll says there is plenty of court precedent that allows media to have access to a public jury trial of any kind: “Certainly there is a lot of case law and history about the media’s right to cover court that is an open proceeding, and an adult criminal jury trial is definitely open to the public and to the media.”
Jury selection is slated to begin at 10AM tomorrow, with opening statements slated for first thing Wednesday morning.