A Morgan County murder trial will be ready to go next month.
21 year old Dustin Finlaw was in Morgan County Court Wednesday afternoon for a final pre-trial conference. Finlaw is charged with three counts of first degree murder in the stabbing death of of 42-year-old Robert Utter of Rushville in May of 2018 in Meredosia.
Assistant State’s Attorney Chad Turner said that Wednesday’s hearing was mostly procedural to tie up any pre-trial motions, legal issues, and to admonish Finlaw on his rights and charges: “This was just standard operating procedure in terms of a pre-trial hearing. The only thing that was maybe different was dealing with Covid protocols in terms of logistics as to how the courtroom is going to be set up to accommodate social distancing and things of that nature. Other than that, everything was fairly standard that court and counsel does, or in this case, the defendant is representing himself. It’s fairly typical to do at least once, if not a couple of times before we actually go to trial.”
Finlaw was admonished by visiting Judge Jack Davis III about issuing subpoenas for his witness in the case. Turner says that his office and the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office are working to assisting Finlaw in getting his witnesses to court for the upcoming trial: “Typically, subpoenas are just an enforcement mechanism where anybody has a right to compel someone to attend [court] and give testimony. Obviously, being self-represented, there is some logistical problems with [Finlaw] getting those served. I think he is working on those. We have offered to assist just in the sense of getting them to the appropriate law enforcement agencies to serve who he believes needs to serve as witnesses in his case.”
During the hearing on Wednesday, the Morgan County State’s Attorney’s Office revealed they had tendered Finlaw a negotiated plea bargain in the case. The state’s attorney’s office said they had offered Finlaw a sentence of 35 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections and 3 three years of Mandatory Supervised Release if he were to plea guilty to one count of first degree murder in the case. Finlaw persisted in not accepting the offer in open court. Finlaw faces 20-60 years in each of the 3 counts he faces in Utter’s death. According to the court, Finlaw must serve 100% of the sentence. Finlaw also faces two counts of aggravated battery, 2 counts of obstruction of justice, and and 1 count of resisting a peace officer in the case. The state said it has no intention of amending the charges once the cause heads to trial.
Judge Davis also asked Finlaw once again if he wished to continue to proceed as a pro se defendant in the case. Finlaw replied, “I know it is a bold decision, your honor, but I feel it is best for me.”
A final pre-trial status is set for 2:30PM on January 24th with the jury trial and selection slated for the following day beginning at 10AM.