Pathologists say Mt. Morris woman was strangled before being found in her burning home

Dr. Amanda Youmans, a forensic pathologist, explains to the jury her findings after completing an autopsy on Melissa Lamesch. Youmans testified for the prosecution during the jury trial for Matthew Plote at the Ogle County Judicial Center in Oregon on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Plote is accused of killing Lamesch and her unborn baby on Nov=. 25, 2020.

OREGON – Two forensic pathologists told jurors Wednesday that a Mt. Morris woman was strangled to death before firefighters recovered her from her burning home.

“Ms. Lamesch died of strangulation,” said Dr. Mark Peters, a forensic pathologist for the Sauk Valley region. “There was no soot in her lungs or airways.”

Peters conducted the first autopsy on Melissa Lamesch, 27, at the Ogle County Coroner’s office in Oregon two days after firefighters found her face down on her kitchen floor when they were called to her burning home at 206 S. Hannah Ave. on Nov. 25, 2020.

Matthew T. Plote, 36, of Malta, is accused of killing Lamesch and her unborn baby and then setting fire to her home to conceal the deaths.

He is charged with 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 has been held in the Ogle County Correctional Center on $10 million bond since his March 2022 arrest and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Wednesday was the second day of testimony at the trial, with Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock calling five witnesses to the stand.

Peters testified he also found abrasions on Lamesch’s face and scalp, an abrasion in her vaginal wall, and bruises on her legs and thighs. He said all of those injuries also occurred before she died.

There were no elevated levels of carbon monoxide found in Lamesch’s blood and her “full-term male fetus” had no abnormalities, Peters said, noting that local law enforcement officials and investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s office were also in attendance when the autopsy was conducted.

Under cross examination by John Kopp, one of Plote’s attorneys, Peters said he didn’t completely clean all the soot off Lamesch’s body before doing the autopsy. On Tuesday, firefighters testified that Lamesch’s body was found with soot and debris on it.

“There was some cleaning done,” Peters said. “I didn’t sponge her down.”

Peters said Lamesch’s toxicology report only showed diphphenhydramine, an antihistamine commonly known as Benadryl, in her system.

Dr. Amanda Youmans, a forensic pathologist from Peoria, performed a second autopsy on Lamesch on Dec. 8, 2020, and also concluded that she had been strangled.

Youmans said she was in private practice and had been contracted by the state’s attorney’s office.

“I am paid for my time, not my testimony,” she said under questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Allison Huntley.

Youmans said the second autopsy was done at the Peoria County coroner’s office with officers from the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office, Illinois State Police, and the State Fire Marshal Office in attendance.

She said Lamesch’s neck, face, eyes and larynx all showed signs of strangulation and hemorrhages in the muscles in her neck were also caused by pressure being applied to that area.

“She showed no evidence that she was alive at the time of the fire,” Youmans said. “She was deceased prior to the fire. The child appeared to be a full-term healthy male.”

Jurors were shown autopsy photos of Lamesch’s injuries along with a photo of the baby wrapped in a blue blanket.

Youmans said when she cleaned soot and debris from Lamesch’s body she discovered more injuries that she said were consistent with “blunt force.” Those injuries, Youmans said, were found on Lamesch’s forehead, head and temple and were consistent with “multiple blows to her head.”

She said there was significant petechial hemorrhaging found on Lamesch. She said strangulation can cause blood vessels to rupture when blood flow is restricted or stopped.

“This is the most petechial hemorrhaging I’ve ever seen in a strangulation,” Youmans said. “Her cause of death was strangulation.”

Youmans said it would have taken several minutes for the baby to die from asphyxiation – lack of oxygen – after his mother’s death.

Under cross examination by Liam Dixon, a defense attorney for Plote, Youmans said the hemorrhaging was not caused by coughing or being in labor.

Youmans said there were minimal thermal wounds on the body as well as bruising on her legs, which indicated pressure also being applied there before she died. And she said a vaginal abrasion was “consistent with sexual assault” and not typical of consensual sex.

When asked by Dixon if Lamesch could have died from a pulmonary embolism, Youmans replied, “No”.

“She had no blood clots in her lungs,” Youmans said.

On Tuesday, firefighters testified they were called to the Lamesch home around 4:30 p.m. and forced their way into the home, where they found Lamesch laying on the kitchen floor not breathing and covered with soot and debris.

When she was dragged from the burning home and placed into an ambulance, there was no electrical activity in her heart, and she was pronounced dead at 4:54 p.m., firefighters said.

Gus Lamesch, Melissa’s father, testified she had moved back into the family home with him on Oct. 11, 2020 because she was nine months pregnant. He said Melissa was scheduled to have her labor induced on Nov. 27.

Lamesch was a 2011 graduate of Oregon High School and an emergency medical technician at Trace Ambulance Service in Tinley Park.

Prosecutors will continue their case at 9 a.m. Thursday. The trial is expected to continue through Friday.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

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