A man accused of first-degree murder in Morgan County won’t see a jury in 2021.
A final pre-trial hearing was held in Morgan County Court this afternoon in the trial of 21-year-old Dustin Finlaw who is accused of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of 42-year-old Robert Utter of Rushville in May of 2018 in Meredosia.
The hearing was to be the last ahead of the start of the jury trial set for November 16th. 7th Circuit Associate Judge Jack Davis II said there were several items on his three-page agenda that needed to be addressed before the trial could proceed next month.
Judge Davis had only to ask his first question from the agenda before issues in readiness became apparent. Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll says both the state and the defense have key witnesses who are not available to appear in court in November.
“The last time the parties met in court in September, the judge instructed the parties to try to meet and get together and craft stipulations that would cover the testimony of the witnesses that were unavailable for the trial in November. The parties were not able to come to an agreement, there was one defense witness and one state witness that are unavailable in November.
We were not able to come to any sort of agreement for stipulation of their testimony. Because of that, the case has been continued based on the schedule of the court and, although the defendant is proceeding Pro Se, he does have standby counsel, and on the schedule of the standby counsel the case is now set for January 25th, 2022.”
Noll said during the hearing that as directed by the court, his office had offered to meet with Finlaw to discuss stipulations for the testimony of the witnesses, however, the defendant had refused the meeting.
Noll said some communication on the stipulations was handled through a jailer with Finlaw telling the State’s Attorney he would not agree to stipulation for the State’s expert witness.
Finlaw was unsure when his witness, who is recovering from surgery, could attend beyond the November trial date. He said however he was certain accommodations could be made for the witness to appear in court. In November
Finlaw said multiple times during the hearing he did not want to see the trial continued to another date and objected to the trial being moved citing he had already subpoenaed multiple witnesses for November.
Judge Davis said the subpoenas were also continued and suggested that as per his previous recommendation, Finlaw agrees to meet with Noll for final pre-trial discussion and that he take advantage of assistance from the State’s Attorney’s Office for resubmitting his subpoenas, which according to Noll is not uncommon when an accused is acting as his own defense.
“Whenever a criminal case is getting ready to be tried it’s usually beneficial for both sides to meet, for the attorneys to meet, and talk about trial issues and other things of that nature. Since the defendant is proceeding Pro Se it makes it a little more difficult to have those meetings.
Certainly, the defendant is required to meet with us for pretrial preparations, however, the state as we said on the record today is happy to meet with the defendant at any time to help him serve his subpoenas, or help him through any pretrial processes he may need assistance through.”
A second final pretrial conference has been set for December 15th at 1:30 pm, with jury selection to begin on January 25th at 10:00 am in Morgan County Court.