Malta man wants judge to dismiss 2020 double-homicide charges

Motion hearing set for Sept. 25 in Ogle County

Matthew Plote, 36, of Malta, is escorted into an Ogle County courtroom on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

OREGON – Defense attorneys for a Malta man charged with killing a Mount Morris woman and her unborn son in November 2020 are asking an Ogle County judge to dismiss murder and arson charges against their client because of a “pretrial delay” or reduce his bond from $10 million to $50,000 as he awaits trial.

Matthew T. Plote, 36, is charged with killing Melissa Lamesch, 27, and her unborn son on Nov. 25, 2020, and then setting fire to her home in Mount Morris to conceal their deaths. Lamesch’s baby was due Nov. 27, 2020.

Plote is facing four counts of first-degree murder; three counts of intentional homicide of an unborn child; and one count each of residential arson, aggravated domestic battery and concealment of a homicidal death. He appeared in court Thursday wearing the standard orange jumpsuit and in handcuffs and leg irons. Several of his family members sat in one row of the courtroom’s public seating area, while Lamesch’s family sat a row behind them.

Prosecutors have filed a response to the defense motion asserting that the motion to dismiss is not warranted or supported by case law.

“We would ask to set that motion for hearing,” John Kopp, a defense attorney for Plote, said during the Thursday status hearing. “We anticipate some live testimony on that motion. And we also have on file a motion to modify or reduce our client’s bond and, obviously, after Sept. 18, the pretrial SAFE-T Act will take effect.”

The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the controversial SAFE-T Act that allows defendants to be released on no-cash bond. Under the new law, judges still decide if a defendant is a flight risk or poses too much of a threat to one person or the community to allow release.

The SAFE-T Act was met with opposition from law enforcement and state’s attorneys across the state, including Ogle County.

“We may change our position on what we are asking for at that time and ask to be heard under the new law,” Kopp said. “At this point, we would ask for a hearing on the motion to dismiss.”

Ogle County Judge John “Ben” Roe said he could consider both motions at one hearing and set the next court date for 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 25.

In their motion to dismiss, Plote’s attorneys, Kopp and Liam Dixon, argued that Plote has been in custody since March 9, 2022, and that before his arrest was interviewed at the time of “the unfortunate tragedy” with only one additional interview on Aug. 28, 2021.

“There were 469 days between the events alleged against the defendant and his arrest,” according to the motion. “Approximately a year and a half passed before the defendant was charged and arrested, giving rise to a pretrial delay.”

The motion also claims that the defense should have been allowed to attend the two autopsies performed on the victims. Plote has not demanded a speedy trial, but the motion argues that he was not “given an opportunity to conduct his own investigation of the fire that occurred on the scene and must now rely on the evidence as it was gathered by state agents.”

Defense attorneys also argued that Plote was not given an “opportunity to conduct a medical examination of any clinical evidence gathered” and must rely, again, on evidence gathered by prosecutors.

Prosecutors have countered that case law does not support a “pre-indictment delay” and there is no clear showing of “actual and substantial prejudice.”

“Irrespective of when the defendant was charged, he would not have had defense experts at the fire scene or at the autopsies, as it had not yet been determined that a homicide even occurred until after those examinations were complete,” State’s Attorney Mike Rock said in his response.

Rock also noted that a “15-month delay between the commission of the crimes and the return of the indictment is reasonable given the seriousness of the crimes with which he is charged, including first-degree murder, intentional homicide of an unborn child, residential arson and concealment of a homicidal death.”

Rock’s response also said that Plote, since his arrest, has appeared in court numerous times with his attorneys.

“Future court dates have been set by agreement without a speedy-trial demand by the defendant. Further, the defendant has not alleged any prejudice as a result of a delay between his arrest and the matter being set for trial. Indeed, the defendant has not yet requested a trial date,” Rock said in the response.

The defense’s second motion to reduce bond asks the court to reduce Plote’s since he was a career fireman, has resided in DeKalb County his entire life, has strong ties to the community, and has no criminal history or history of violence.

That motion also argues that Plote “does not pose a flight risk” since he remained in the area and was cooperative with law enforcement throughout their investigation.

“[The] defendant’s family can post up to $50,000 to secure his release and help to ensure his appearance at each court date,” according to the motion, which adds that Plote’s bond should be “reevaluated in light of the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the SAFE-T Act and cashless bail.”

Roe declined a similar bond reduction request in April 2022, noting that even though a bond report had indicated Plote was “low risk” and had “little or no criminal history,” the nature of the charges weighed heavily in his decision.

Plote has been held at the Ogle County Correctional Center since his March 9, 2022, arrest. His bail is set at $10 million.

Lamesch was found about 4:30 p.m. Nov. 25, 2020, after firefighters responded to 206 S. Hannah Ave., Mount Morris, where they encountered heavy smoke and blaring smoke detectors. She was found on the kitchen floor and pronounced dead at the scene despite lifesaving measures.

She was a 2011 graduate of Oregon High School and an EMT at Trace Ambulance Service in Tinley Park.

Prosecutors have yet to offer a possible motive in the case but have said Lamesch and Plote knew each other before the killings.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen oversees production and content of 8 community weeklies and has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.