22 year old Dustin A. Finlaw of Meredosia was back in Morgan County Court on Friday afternoon to request a new trial after he was convicted of the first degree murder of 42 year old Robert Utter of Rushville back in January.
Finlaw orally argued that prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of murder. Finlaw formally filed the motion in writing on February 15th. Visiting Judge Jack Davis III allowed Finlaw to orally argue the specifics of his motion in court Friday. Finlaw went on to argue that the state did not provide proficient evidence for the conviction, prejudiced the jury, allowed an improper juror to be seated, and continued to argue that statements he made during an interrogation by police was under severe sleep deprivation and mental duress.
Assistant State’s Attorney Chad Turner argued against the motion on Friday that the objections raised in the motion were without merit: “There is a concept in the law that is known as ‘waiver,’ which is basically if there is some sort of objectionable evidence that is being offered, you are required to make a timely objection to that at trial and if you don’t, you’ve waived that objection. The purpose for that is during the moment a side objects, it’s fixed during the here and now and the side is allowed to a call a different witness or ask a question in a different way. It can be fixed. If a side doesn’t object, generally they’ve waived that argument. A lot of times during a trial, there is objectionable evidence that for reasons of strategy or what have you, a side may choose not to object to it. For example, it draws more attention to evidence that is particularly damning or it could be presented in a way that is more persuasive. There are a lot of reasons why somebody might not object to certain things. A lot of objections that happen during trials by seasoned attorneys are technical evidence-based rules objections. It’s not that the evidence itself won’t eventually come out at trial. It may be how you are asking about it or presenting it.”
Finlaw also argued in court that he was deficient in the performance of his own defense during the case. Turner says there is legal precedent that someone can’t use that argument during a motion for a new trial when are a self-defendant: “It was fairly interesting. Sometimes you come up with these novel things when you have someone who clearly is not well-versed in the law. Somehow he is claiming that as he was acting as his own counsel, he was ineffective; but that’s not the same thing as the legal argument of ineffective assistance of counsel. Clearly, it is the same thing. I can understand why he might think it’s not the same thing. That’s why there is clearly case law that says if you choose to represent yourself, you waive any claim of ineffective counsel because of course you’re going to be. Abraham Lincoln said that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client. Clearly that argument is waived and about as baseless of a claim he could make in this hearing.”
Judge Davis denied Finlaw’s motion for a new trial and set sentencing in the case for April 29th at 1:30PM. Davis went on to admonish Finlaw that he had a right to receive counsel for his sentencing. Finlaw asked for a public defender, and Finlaw’s stand-by counsel, Morgan County Public Defender Tom Piper, was appointed by the court.
Finlaw faces a penalty of 20-60 years in prison, up to 3 years of Mandatory Supervised Release, and various fines, fees, and court costs up to $25,000. Under Illinois’ truth-in-sentencing laws, Finlaw must serve 100% of his sentence. Judge Davis told Finlaw prior to concluding the hearing that he would have right to an appeal after his sentencing.