Finlaw’s Mental Fitness to be Decided in Bench Trial

By Jeremy Coumbes on March 9, 2021 at 2:14pm

The defendant in a Morgan County Murder case will have the decision on if he is fit to stand trial decided this month.

20-year-old Dustin Finlaw of Meredosia appeared in Morgan County Court this morning for a status hearing after Public Defender Tom Piper requested more time last week to pursue a jury trial to determine if Finlaw is mentally fit to stand trial.

Finlaw is facing charges of first-degree murder in the death of 42-year-old Robert L. Utter that occurred in May 2018 in Meredosia.

Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll says it was clear that Finalw is not entitled to a jury trial on the issue of mental fitness after both parties and the court researched both the statutes and relevant case law.

Morgan County Circuit Judge Chris Reif set the hearing to decide the mental fitness of Finlaw on March 25th at 1:30 pm. Noll says during the hearing, previous evaluations of Finlaw’s mental fitness will be heard.

At the hearing, there will be a variety of evidence that will be introduced by both parties. The Department of Human Services was treating the defendant at one point and issued an opinion that will be entered into evidence.

The defendant engaged an expert to have an evaluation and the State engaged another independent expert to complete an evaluation and all of those evaluations and treatments will be introduced during the hearing on March 25th.”

Noll says the issue of mental fitness has been in question since the very start of the proceedings.

If he is fit to stand trial, the case will proceed almost as like it’s from day one. The defendant has yet to have a preliminary hearing on the matter which is usually the first thing that is done in a felony case. But since this case has been pending fitness issues the entire time, the defendant has yet to have a preliminary hearing.

So after the issue of fitness is resolved it will then be set for a preliminary hearing and the case will proceed like any other felony. After that, it will be set on what is called the pretrial docket.”

Finlaw originally was found to be unfit for trial in October 2018, and then later was found fit by the Department of Human Services in October of 2019. After being restored to fitness, Finlaw was moved from Chester Mental Health Center to the Morgan County Jail.

When he was moved, Defense Attorney Tom Piper raised concerns about Finlaw’s fitness changing at the time and asked to have him re-evaluated by a psychiatrist which was denied at that time by Judge Reif.

Finlaw also is facing charges of aggravated assault on two police officers, resisting arrest, and obstructing justice by destroying evidence in relation to his later arrest in connection to the homicide.