Judge denies Malta man’s motion to be released; double-murder case continues

Ogle County Assistant States's Attorney Heather Kruse hands paperwork to  Judge John "Ben" Roe during Matthew Plote's pretrial release hearing on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023.

OREGON – A Malta man accused of killing a Mount Morris woman and her unborn child and then setting her home on fire, will remain in jail as his case proceeds through the Ogle County court system, a judge ruled Thursday.

Matthew T. Plote, 36, is charged with killing Melissa Lamesch, 27, and her baby Nov. 25, 2020, then 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.

“This is a detainable offense and the state has filed a petition to deny the defendant’s release,” Ogle County Judge John “Ben” Roe said in denying Plote’s release. “I have considered all the evidence regarding the charges. The presumption is great that he committed these offenses.”

Plote has been held at the Ogle County Correctional Center on $10 million bond since his March 9, 2022, arrest. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has appeared for multiple hearings at the Ogle County Judicial Center as his case proceeds.

Plote’s attorneys, Liam Dixon and John Kopp, had filed a motion asking their client be released under the SAFE-T Act, a new law that allows defendants to be released on a no-cash bond. Under the 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.

In denying the motion for pretrial release, Roe said he examined grand jury transcripts, Illinois State Police reports and autopsy findings before making his decision.

“There are no conditions or combination of conditions can mitigate the real and present threat to persons or the community,” Roe said.

On Wednesday, Roe heard arguments from the defense and prosecutors,

At that hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Heather Kruse said Plote should continue to be detained because of the violent nature of the charges and presented Roe with a transcript of grand jury proceedings that resulted in the indictments filed against Plote.

“This man strangled a woman to death who was pregnant with his son and then he lit the house on fire the day before Thanksgiving,” she said during the hearing.

Kopp argued that Plote is presumed innocent of all charges as he awaits trial and has no other criminal history. He said that during the months between Lamesch’s death and Plote’s arrest he was not charged or accused of any other offenses – including traffic charges – and never tried to leave the area while the investigation continued.

He said Plote was “keenly aware he was a person of interest” and was interviewed by police on numerous occasions, but remained in the area and cooperated with the investigation.

Kopp also said that Plote was not a flight risk or a threat risk to anyone if he were to be released.

Kopp said evidence provided to a grand jury is not to be considered proof of guilt. Only prosecutors present evidence during grand jury proceedings.

“There hasn’t been a trial in front of a jury. There’s just a group of people that say he’s guilty,” Kopp said at the Wednesday hearing.

Kruse countered that there were not any conditions the court could impose that would ensure Plote would not flee, arguing Plote now faces natural life in prison. “Before he was arrested, the stakes were not that high,” she said.

“This is a first-degree murder charge,” Roe said Thursday. “There is strangulation and death, and the defendant is also accused of setting fire to the home. The court further finds that no one is safe due to these acts.”

Roe told Plote he has 14 days to appeal Thursday’s decision. A tentative jury trial date has been set for March 18. Deadlines for pretrial motions were set for February with the next hearing date scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb.15.

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 Hinton

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