Mount Morris woman’s words could be admitted at trial of Malta man accused of killing her, unborn child

Matthew Plote of Malta is escoted into an Ogle County courtroom on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. He is accused of killing Melissa Lamesch of Mount Morris and her unborn son and then setting their home on fire in 2020.. He has been held at the Ogle County Correctional Center since his arrest in 2022.

OREGON – An Ogle County judge heard opposing arguments Thursday on whether a phone conversation between a Mount Morris woman and her sister hours before her alleged murder should be allowed as evidence for jurors to consider in a trial planned for March.

Matthew T. Plote, 36, is accused of killing Melissa Lamesch, 27, and her unborn baby on Nov. 25, 2020, and then setting fire to her home in Mount Morris to conceal their 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.

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.

His jury trial is scheduled to begin March 18 and last five days.

On Thursday, Judge John “Ben” Roe heard arguments from Plote’s attorneys, Liam Dixon, and John Kopp, of Sycamore, and Assistant State’s Attorneys Heather Kruse and Allison Huntley, on several motions in limine, most filed by the defense.

The purpose of a motion in limine (Latin for “on the threshold”) is to determine whether certain evidence may be presented to the jury. Motions in limine are commonly entered and argued before a trial begins, allowing evidentiary questions to be decided by the judge. The motions are made by attorneys when seeking to exclude certain evidence from being presented to a jury.

At issue in one of the motions is a conversation in a 2-hour phone call prosecutors say was between Lamesch and her sister on the day they say the murder occurred.

Huntley said Lamesch was on a phone call with her sister when Plote unexpectedly arrived at her home.

“She told her sister he was at her residence and she would have to call her back,” Huntley said. “These statements are relative to the trial. He arrived at her home on the day of the murder. She planned to call her sister back. When he left she was deceased.”

Huntley said the statements should be allowed as evidence at the trial.

“These are hearsay statements, but they are admissible at trial. They tell her state of mind,” Huntley said. “She planned to call her sister back.”

Dixon argued that the phone conversation should be considered as hearsay evidence and inadmissible because Lamesch could not be cross examined as to content. He said there was no explanation as to why Lamesch didn’t call back.

Dixon said allowing the sister’s testimony to be heard would unfairly prejudice jurors against his client.

“I think that infers an implication, and that is not admissible,” Dixon argued.

Huntley disagreed.

“It is reasonable for the jury to consider. It is plainly admissible,” Huntley said.

Roe said he would take the arguments under consideration and reserve his ruling until March 7. He also reserved ruling on two other motions – one regarding chain of custody for DNA testing and results and the other on post-Miranda statements made by Plote.

Kruse said initial post-mortem DNA testing on Lamesch by a lab in Virginia showed a male contributor. That DNA sample was then matched with a DNA sample from Plote through the Illinois State Police, Kruse said.

Dixon’s motion in limine asks the court to prevent prosecutors from using Plote’s “post-Miranda silence” during a 7-hour video interrogation.

He said Plote initially spoke with investigators voluntarily, but then was questioned again after his DNA was found on Lamesch and after he admitted being at her home.

Plote was given his Miranda rights, but when he again was questioned by investigators, he chose to remain silent, Dixon said.

“He was sitting silent in the face of these allegations. The state is asking the jury to infer that his silence is an admission,” Dixon argued. “Miranda is for the protection of the defendant – not to be used by the state.”

Huntley said Dixon was taking a “narrow” view of the complete video.

“It is important for the court to allow all pertinent evidence at trial for the jury to consider,” Huntley said. “He is only silent when he does not want to answer a particular question. Selected silence is absolutely admissible at trial.”

Dixon disagreed, arguing that investigators were asking “the same questions in the same way” and had been saying no for hours.

“They are basically telling him he is lying,” Dixon said. “Case law does not support the state’s argument.”

Kopp said the defense team was also planning on making a motion for a change of venue. He said that motion should be ready and filed by the end of the week.

Roe did grant a defense motion to allow Plote to appear in civilian clothing during each day of the trial. The state did not object to that motion.

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.

Roe also denied the defense’s standing request to allow Plote to be released from custody as his case proceeds.

In December, Dixon and Kopp had filed a motion asking Plote 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. He said the charge of murder was a detainable offense and there were no conditions or combination of conditions that could mitigate the real and present threat to persons or the community if Plote were to be released.

During a previous hearing, Kruse said Plote should continue to be detained because of the violent nature of the charges stating he “strangled a woman to death who was pregnant with his son and then he lit the house on fire the day before Thanksgiving.”

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

Ogle County Judge John "Ben" Roe listens to arguments during a Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 hearing for Matthew Plote of Malta. Plote is accused of killing Melissa Lamesch of Mount Morris and her unborn son and then setting their home on fire in 2020.
Rachel Sitkiewicz, an EMT who served with Melissa Lamesch, holds photos of Melissa and a footprint of Lamesch's unborn son after an April 29, 2022, court hearing.
Melissa Lamesch and her unborn son died Nov. 25, 2020, at her home in Mt. Morris. Matthew Plote was convicted of their murders by an Ogle County jury on Friday, March 22, 2024.
Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

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