Jury Views Video Interviews with Dustin Finlaw Days After his Arrest in Day Two of Murder Trial

By Jeremy Coumbes on January 27, 2022 at 6:57pm

The prosecution continued to present its case in the Dustin Finlaw murder trial this morning.

Illinois State Police Zone 4 Detective Sgt. Brad Sterling continued to be questioned on the witness stand. Sterling was one of the two investigators who questioned Finlaw in a videotaped interview a few days after he was arrested.

In the video interview, Finlaw became emotional at times. During cross-examination, Finlaw who is representing himself asked Sgt Sterling if it appeared that Finlaw was trying to help them during the interview, to which Sterling said yes it appeared so.

During redirect, State’s Attorney Gray Noll asked Sterling if he felt Finlaw’s emotion was genuine, to which Sterling answered “, no, I felt his emotion was in-genuine” and that usually when someone who is being genuine is crying, they shed tears and Finlaw had shed none while he was crying.

The jury also saw a video of an interview with Finlaw at the Morgan County Jail conducted by Sterling on May 29th, 2018, after Finlaw had requested to speak with Detectives Sterling and Deanna Harten again.

Finlaw said he had found out from some cellmates that the man known as “Darren” that Finlaw had previously stated was sitting in the backseat of Utter’s vehicle, and that he says stabbed Utter to death, was either a Darren Renfroe or Moralle and that he thought they “should know that information”.

Later in the video, both investigators can be seen leaving the interview room, then later Investigator Deanna Harten comes back and shows a photo of Darren Renfroe to Finlaw asking “do you recognize this man?” at which point Finlaw breaks down crying. Sterling comes back into the room later and tells Finlaw that Darren Renfroe that he identified in the picture was incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections and could not have been in Meredosia the night of Utter’s death.

During further questioning by State’s Attorney Noll on the witness stand, Sterling testified that a Darren Morralle did live in the area who said he was at work on a farm in White Hall when the incident occurred. His employer confirmed that he had clocked in at 5:01 am and clocked out for the day at 4:40 pm making it impossible for him to be in Meredosia at the time of the murder.

Finlaw was also asked if he owned a sports tracker type of watch. Finlaw said he had owned a FitBit but sold it “a few weeks ago” to his uncle because he needed money to buy cannabis. Investigators asked if a similar watch found in Utter’s vehicle by investigators could be the same watch, to which Finlaw said no, he sold it to his uncle.

Also giving testimony this morning was Jacksonville Police Sergeant Sean Haefeli, who took over questioning Finlaw during the interview in a video shown to the jury this afternoon.

Prior to the video, Noll questioned Haefeli about his part in the investigation as he was working a special detail with the Illinois State Police at that time and was called to assist with the crime scene.

Haefeli testified that the evidence determined the actual stabbing occurred in Utter’s vehicle while it was parked in the Naples Boat Dock Parking lot and that after being stabbed, Utter was able to drive a few hundred yards to where the vehicle was later found before he passed out due to blood loss.

Haefeli’s portion of the video interview and further testimony continued into the afternoon. The video of Haefli’s questioning showed Finlaw in an agitated state, plugging his ears at one point, telling Haefli that he was being told by a voice in his head named Saraphine to stop talking to him and only talk to him about aliens. At one point, while on his own in the interrogation room, Finlaw begins muttering random lines from the Book of Revelation in the Holy Bible and begins doing a strange pantomime in which he appeared to be catching invisible objects in the air.

Later on in the interview, Haefli recounts Finlaw’s previous story about a Darren being in the vehicle being untrue and Finlaw became agitated again saying that the police were going to force him to take medication. At another point in the interview, Finlaw says that his mother had molested him as a young boy.

After the conclusion of the video, Haefli was questioned about Finlaw’s behavior off-camera. He says that Finlaw appeared “normal” and that the behavior on camera appeared to him to be an “act.”

On cross-examination, Finlaw asked Haefli why he agreed to continue the interview despite not believing anything that Finlaw was saying. Haefli says that sometimes you have to continue to break through to the truth.

Finlaw pointed out in cross-examination that he was “seriously disturbed” at the time the video was taken and that he had not slept in 4 days. Finlaw asked Haefli if anyone’s answers in questioning under severe sleep deprivation could be trusted. Haefli responded that he wasn’t a doctor and that he didn’t know.

The state next called ISP Crime Scene Investigator Tim Lemasters to the stand to discuss his processing of fingerprints from the vehicle, which was supported by ISP Forensic Scientist Katharine Maylind who works as a specialist in the Latent Fingerprint Division of the ISP Forensic Science Lab in Springfield. Maylind positively identified Finlaw’s fingerprint taken on the exterior driver’s side rear door handle from Utter’s silver Ford Escape. Maylind said that fingerprints taken from a red knife and red knife sheath found approximately a month after the murder did not possess any latent fingerprints to process. Maylind says that fingerprints likely were not lifted due to the environment or moisture cleaning away the surfaces of both objects.

The last witness of the day was John DeCroix, a member of Halverson Construction. DeCroix was asked about an individual he saw jogging in front of the bank on Main Street in Meredosia a few hours prior to Utter’s body being discovered.

DeCroix identified a male in dreadlocks “shuffling their feet” in what appeared to be slippers and all-black clothing in the early morning hours on the day of the murder. DeCroix says after he was told about a murder in town that day, he quickly reported the individual and the incident to police. Assistant State’s Attorney Chad Turner then showed two surveillance videos from the Meredosia Bank depicting an individual that appears to be Finlaw jogging by the bank on the opposite side of the street of where DeCroix was sitting in his construction truck.

After the video concluded Finlaw offered no cross-examination of DeCroix. The court dismissed for the day. State’s Attorney Gray Noll said that the state expects to wrap up its case sometime tomorrow morning.

Ben Cox assisted in the gathering of this report.