Judge reserves ruling on motion to dismiss murder charges against Malta man

Motion for a bond reduction is denied

Matthew Plote is escorted into an Ogle County courtroom for a Monday, Oct. 30, 2023 motion hearing.

OREGON – A Malta man charged with killing a Mount Morris woman and her unborn son in November 2020 will have to wait until later this month to learn the fate of a motion to dismiss charges of murder and arson.

John Kopp and Liam Dixon, attorneys for Matthew T. Plote, 36, argued that the charges should be dismissed because too much time had passed between the alleged crime and their client’s arrest.

Plote is charged with killing Melissa Lamesch, 27, and her unborn son on Nov. 25, 2020, and setting fire to her home in Mount Morris to conceal their deaths. Lamesch’s baby was due Nov. 27, 2020. He faces 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.

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.

Plote has been held at the Ogle County Correctional Center since his March 9, 2022, arrest.

Kopp and Dixon filed a pretrial delay motion in September and on Monday called two witnesses during a two-hour hearing in their effort to convince Ogle County Judge John “Ben” Roe to grant the motion to dismiss.

Ogle County Sheriff’s Detective Brian Ketter testified he first talked with Plote the day after the fire and had other communications with him before his arrest. Ketter said Plote told him he had been at Lamesch’s residence the day of the fire, but she was alive when he left.

“You told him you thought he did this and then it got confrontational,” Dixon said, referring to one of the conversations in 2021.

Ketter said when police initiated an “overhear” with some of Plote’s co-workers he had not informed them of Lamesch’s or the baby’s death.

“None of the co-workers knew he was going to be a father and that someone had died,” Ketter testified.

Under questioning by Dixon, Ketter said that on the overhear Plote again said Lamesch was alive when he left her house.

Dixon questioned why police didn’t interview anyone else in connection with the incident.

“He [Plote] told you he was over there and she was alive when he left,” Dixon said. “And that was the same with the overhear. You didn’t investigate anyone else. Your focus was on Mr. Plote.”

Under questioning by Ogle County Assistant State’s Attorney Heather Kruse, Ketter said police were seeking investigative reports, crime scene data and autopsies from the time of the fire until Plote’s indictment by a grand jury and subsequent arrest.

Kruse said investigators were seeking and examining surveillance videos; DNA samples, including samples from the fetus; Amazon records; and other records during the course of the investigation.

“You followed the evidence and spoke to who you needed to?” Kruse asked Ketter. “Yes,” he replied.

John Knapp, a fire investigator hired by the defense, testified that after reviewing reports from the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office he could not rule the house fire as an arson. “My conclusion was undetermined,” Knapp said. “I was unable to come up with a cause other than it was undetermined.”

Knapp said he reviewed incident reports earlier this year and was not at the scene. Under questioning by Kopp, Knapp said there was not enough evidence provided to him to determine a cause.

“And how many cases have you testified in that involved a homicide?” Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock asked.

“None,” Knapp said.

Rock said the Illinois State Police assisted the state fire marshal during the investigation in addition to the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department. Ketter said the home had been secured until those examinations had been conducted.

Rock said autopsies indicated there was blunt force trauma to Lamesch with limited thermal burns.

“There were numerous injuries consistent with blunt force trauma,” Rock said, arguing that Knapp was not a “credible” witness because of his lack of experience in fires with homicidal deaths. He also said State Farm Insurance investigators examined the home and did not find anything to indicate that the fire was accidental in origin.

Kopp and Dixon argued that the case against Plote should be dismissed because the home should have been secured in order for other investigators to conduct examinations. “We cannot cross-examine their evidence,” Dixon argued. “There was tangible evidence that could have been preserved.”

Kruse said Plote’s due process had not been violated by the length of the investigation and all the charges against him should remain. “The defendant knew from Day 1 that she had died in that fire and that his son had died in that fire,” Kruse said. “This was a thorough investigation and the investigators took their time due to the seriousness of the crime with two victims. Fifteen months is not unreasonable to conclude an investigation, and the defendant was not in custody during that time.”

She said Plote had never asked for speedy trial and had asked for and received many continuances.

Roe said he would take all the arguments and testimony under advisement and rule on the motion to dismiss at a hearing set for 1:30 p.m. Nov. 17.

Bond reduction denied

After hearing testimony and arguments for the motion-to-dismiss hearing, Roe denied a defense motion to reduce Plote’s bond from $10 million to $50,000.

During a September hearing, Kopp said the defense was asking to reduce bond because of the passage of the SAFE-T Act.

The state filed a response to the defense motion, asserting that the motion to dismiss was not warranted or supported by case law.

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 whether a defendant is a flight risk or poses too much of a threat to one person or the community to allow release.

On Monday, Kopp argued that Plote is a career firefighter who has resided in DeKalb County his entire life and has strong ties to the community. He told Roe his client has no criminal history or history of violence and has remained in the area while cooperating with law enforcement throughout the investigation, as evidenced by Ketter’s testimony in the motion to dismiss hearing.

Kopp also told the court that Plote’s family had a “substantial” amount they could put toward his release, “but not $1 million,” which is 10% of Plote’s $10 million bond.

He suggested Plote could be monitored if he were to be released from jail.

Roe disagreed.

“The SAFE-T Act was mentioned in your motion, but you are asking the bond be reduced under the old system,” said Roe. “While this court has heard some evidence throughout these hearings it will not consider changing the bond at this time.”

Roe declined a similar bond reduction request in April 2022, noting that although 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.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

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