Case against Malta man to continue after judge denies motion to dismiss

Matthew Plote of Malta enters an Ogle County Courtroom on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. He is accused of killing Melissa Lamesch of Mt. Morris and her unborn son in 2020.

OREGON – An Ogle County judge has denied a Malta man’s request to dismiss charges of murder and arson filed against him for the November 2020 deaths of a Mount Morris woman and her unborn son.

Matthew T. Plote, 36, is charged with killing Melissa Lamesch, 27, and her baby Nov. 25, 2020, and setting fire to her home in Mount Morris to conceal the deaths. 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.

John Kopp and Liam Dixon, attorneys for Plote, had argued that all the charges should be dismissed because too much time had passed between the alleged crime and their client’s arrest.

They also argued that Lamesch’s home had not been “secured” between the date of the fire and Plote’s arrest, thus crippling the defense’s ability to conduct its own investigations.

Prosecutors countered that Plote’s due process had not been violated by the length of the investigation and all the charges against him should remain. They said police had conducted a thorough investigation and investigators “took their time due to the seriousness of the crime with two victims” and were seeking and examining surveillance videos; DNA samples, including samples from the fetus; Amazon records; and other records during the course of the investigation.

Plote has been held at the Ogle County Correctional Center on $10 million bond since his March 9, 2022, arrest.

Kopp and Dixon filed a pretrial delay motion in September and on Oct. 30 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. Roe said he would take all arguments under advisement and render his decision Nov. 17.

On Nov. 17, he denied the motion.

“Defense counsel restates the fact that between the discovery of the victims and the arrest of the defendant that 469 days had elapsed and that two autopsies had been performed [that were not attended by defense counsel],” Roe wrote in his answer to the motion. “Defense counsel submits that the defendant’s inability to conduct an investigation contributed to substantial prejudice against the defendant.

“Those claims are unfounded. The initial investigation was conducted to determine the events that occurred (i.e., whether an accident, murder or suicide occurred). The defendant’s motion is an assertion of mere speculation with no showing of substantial prejudice against the defendant.”

Kopp and Dixon then filed two motions, one asking the court to prevent the prosecution from using Plote’s “post-Miranda silence” and the other asking that he be released under the SAFE-T Act.

In the Miranda motion, the defense argued that Plote exercised his right to remain silent during an August 2021 conversation with police.

“The insinuation of guilt, based on no answers to the questions asked in this case, is not constitutional nor admissible,” according to the motion.

In the motion for a pretrial release, the defense argued that Plote had cooperated with the investigation and was questioned by police the day of the offense and again in August 2021 before his arrest in March 2022.

“During that time, the defendant was never charged or accused of any other offenses, including traffic. The defendant never attempted to flee jurisdiction and at all times was cooperative with police authorities,” according to the motion. “The state has the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, the defendant would be a danger to a specific person, the public or a risk of flight.”

The SAFE-T Act 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.

Roe set a hearing on the pretrial release motion for 11 a.m. Dec. 6.

A tentative jury trial date has been set for March 18. The defense and the prosecution estimate that the trial would take a week.

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 emergency medical technician at Trace Ambulance Service in Tinley Park. Her baby was due Nov. 27, 2020.

Earleen Hinton

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