A 2018 murder trial that concluded with a guilty verdict will have a final motion to be heard in Morgan County Court before sentencing.
22 year old Dustin A. Finlaw, who was found guilty in the first degree murder of Robert Utter in January, has filed a post-trial motion for a new trial.
Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll says that Finlaw, despite being self-represented, is following common procedure for a case of this magnitude: “Technically, he won’t be able to file an appeal to the conviction until after his sentencing. The pre-appeal motion that is always filed really with any jury trial, whether it’s an individual representing themself or somebody with counsel, is a motion for a new trial. On February 15th, Mr. Finlaw filed his motion for a new trial. In that motion, he outlines what he feels was done improperly both by the court and the prosecution. It is his hope through that motion that the court will grant him a new trial.”
Finlaw argues in his court filing that the state failed to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was guilty of stabbing 42 year old Robert Utter to death on May 24, 2018 in Meredosia. Finlaw says that closing arguments were “prejudicial” and the arguments denied him a right to a fair trial. Finlaw also says in the motion that the jury selection process denied him an impartial jury.
Noll contends that even though the normal jury selection process was rearranged due to Covid-19 protocols, he feels a proper jury was set in the case: “[Mr. Finlaw] didn’t specifically write down what specific objections he was raising about the voir dire process. I don’t know if it was the Covid protocols that were put in place – that he will argue that at his sentencing hearing or the hearing on this motion. I’m confident that the court didn’t err on anything to do with voir dire, and the state did not act improperly during voir dire. I’m at a loss as to what he will argue, but it would surprise me if he would argue that he didn’t receive a fair jury because of the Covid protocols. The protocols that were in place didn’t excuse jurors from serving or affect whether or not they could be impartial. The protocols just basically effected where they were seated in the courtroom, which obviously, didn’t have anything to do with their ability to serve or even judge the case impartially.”
Noll says that the remainder of the motion presents unspecific objections to the state’s expert witnesses from the Illinois State Police and what Finlaw says was “hearsay” testimony: “It’s difficult to say [what his arguments will be.] Again, he didn’t spell out exactly what his arguments will be in his motion. He just indicates that he has a problem with the expert witnesses that were called and their qualifications. Obviously, the jury heard their qualifications at the time that, for example, the Illinois State Police forensic scientists were tendered to the jury as expert witnesses. [Mr. Finlaw] didn’t object to their qualifications. He didn’t object that they were expert witnesses. Nor was there ever an objection made to any testimony coming in that was based on hearsay. A lot of these issues that he’s raised, if he did have legitimate objections to them, he should have made them at the time the evidence was being presented. It’s the state’s position that they were legitimate objections and that’s why he didn’t make them at the time that he should have made them. They were done in a timely manner.”
Noll says it’s a common attempt by any counsel to see if the court will grant the defense a new trial. Finlaw faces 20-60 years in prison on the conviction. Noll says if the court finds that Finlaw’s actions were premeditated with wanton cruelty, he could be sentenced to natural life in prison. Finlaw’s sentencing is scheduled for April 1st.