Sister testifies about call she had with Mt. Morris woman the day she died

Cassie Baal, the sister of Melissa Lamesch, tearfully testifies about the last time she spoke with her sister as she testifies for the prosecution at the Matthew Plote trial at the Ogle County Judicial Center in Oregon on Thursday, March 21, 2024.

OREGON – A sister of Melissa Lamesch choked back tears as she told an Ogle County jury Thursday that she had spoken to her sister just hours before she was found dead, facedown on the kitchen floor of her burning home.

Cassie Baal, Lamesch’s older sister, told jurors that she was on the phone with her sister when Matthew Plote appeared at the family’s childhood home at 206 S. Hannah Ave., Mt. Morris, where Lamesch recently had moved back to as she prepared to give birth to a son.

“She said she would make the conversation quick and would call me right back,” Baal said.

That call never came, and the 27-year-old Lamesch, who was nine months pregnant, was found deceased when Mt. Morris firefighters were called to the burning home on Nov. 25, 2020.

Matthew T. Plote, 36, of Malta is accused of killing Lamesch and her unborn baby and setting fire to her home to conceal their deaths. His trial is underway in Ogle County.

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.

Plote, the baby’s biological father, 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.

On Thursday, Baal, who lives in Normal, Illinois, said she called Lamesch at 10:50 a.m. Nov. 25, 2020, and had been talking to her sister for 2 1/2 hours when Lamesch said “Matt is here.”

Baal said she and her sister messaged each other every day and also kept in touch on social media platforms as the due date for Lamesch’s baby neared.

“She was scared, but she was excited,” Baal said under questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Allison Huntley.

Baal said her sister didn’t tell her immediately who the baby’s father was, but she figured it out by following her sister’s hints and social media accounts.

Because of COVID, Baal said she didn’t physically visit Lamesch frequently, but they messaged daily and spoke by phone at least once a week.

“I called her and she picked up,” said Baal, breaking into tears and asking for some time to collect herself.

Huntley ended her direct questioning and Liam Dixon, one of Plote’s defense attorneys, began his cross examination.

“Didn’t she say ‘Matt’s here. He’s got to stop doing this?’” asked Dixon asked.

“Correct,” replied Baal.

Dixon asked if police had checked her phone records and Baal said her phone was not collected and she did not know if they had reviewed her records.

On Wednesday, Ogle County Detective Chad Gallick said investigators learned the night of the fire that Plote possibly had been at the residence earlier in the day.

Gallick said he called Plote and left a detailed message, and Plote agreed to meet with him and Detective Kevin Most at the Rochelle Police Station about 8 p.m.

“He said he was aware of the fire,” Gallick testified. “He called and said he wanted to go to Malta to pick up his father, and we met in Rochelle for the interview.”

“What was his reaction when you told him Melissa was dead?,” Assistant State’s Attorney Heather Kruse asked.

“None,” Gallick said.

Kruse then played the interview video for the jury, but because of a somewhat garbled sound, had to stop it frequently and ask Gallick what was said.

In the interview, Plote said he worked for the Carol Stream Fire District as a paramedic and was a volunteer with the Malta Fire Department.

He said he had been at Lamesch’s home on Nov. 25, 2020, because he had called off from work because he had hurt his leg while running.

He said he had met Lamesch several years ago when he was a student at Kishwaukee College. He said they had had an “off and on” relationship since 2014.

“You were obviously together at some point because she was pregnant,” Gallick said.

Plote said he and Lamesch did not have a good relationship because of a “lack of communication” and he found out she was pregnant in April 2020. He said when he asked about having an abortion she said no.

He said they had “hooked up” a few times before he went to her home in Mt. Morris about 1 p.m. Nov. 25. He said Lamesch had wanted him to be involved with the baby, but he initially “wasn’t on board”, but went to her home to “work things out”.

Plote said he went to visit Lamesch at her home in Mt. Morris because he had decided he wanted to be involved with the baby, especially since his parents, who also lived in Malta, were interested in being part of the baby’s life.

He said he stayed “about an hour,” and they talked at the kitchen table before moving to the couch to have what he described as consensual sex. He said he then left the home by walking out the front door.

John Kopp, one of Plote’s attorneys, said Plote voluntarily agreed to the Nov. 25 interview without an arrest warrant issued.

“He tells you right away that he has been at Melissa Lamesch’s home,” said Kopp to Gallick. “And he admitted he had sexual intercourse with her that day.”

On Thursday, Blake Aper, a forensic scientist with the Illinois State Police Forensic Lab in Rockford, testified that Plote’s DNA was found in fingernail scrapings taken from Lamesch’s right and left hands. He also said semen found in Lamesch’s vagina also fit Plote’s profile, as did swabs taken from the dead baby.

John Kopp, a defense attorney for Plote, questioned Aper if the lab had processed any touch DNA samples from Lamesch’s neck and shoulders. Aper said no.

“You don’t know how long the scrapings had been under the nails?” asked Kopp.

“True,” replied Aper.

Fire intentionally set, prosecution expert says

Michael Poel, an investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, testified Wednesday that he ruled the fire as incendiary and it had been intentionally started.

Poel said he believed the fire began in the wooden cabinets above the exhaust hood of the stove, and ruled out the stove or microwave as the source of the fire. He said most of the damage to the home was “charring to the ceiling” in the kitchen area.

Two forensic pathologists testified Wednesday that Lamesch was strangled before the fire and she did not have elevated levels of carbon monoxide in her blood or any signs of soot or smoke in her airways.

“I have never had an occasion where someone deceased never had carbon monoxide in their bloodstream,” Poel said. “That indicates to me that she was dead before the fire.”

He also ruled out that a pot or pan left on the stove’s cooking area could have started the fire. And he said the fire was not “accelerant driven”.

“We would have seen more heat damage,” Poel said.

“Someone intentionally set the fire?” asked Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock.

“Yes,” replied Poel.

Pole testified that he had ruled out any electrical or mechanical malfunctions and based on a “totality of circumstances” concluded that the fire likely started from “ordinary combustible” items in the cabinets above the stove that could easily burn.

Harrison Salzman, a forensic scientist with the Illinois State Police lab in Rockford, testified Wednesday that he did not find any latent fingerprints on the doorknobs or deadbolt taken from the Lamesch home by law enforcement officers.

4-hour Interview

Lt. Brian Ketter, the chief investigator for the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office, testified Thursday afternoon that he and two other law enforcement officers interviewed Plote again on Aug. 28, 2021. He said investigators had been working the case for several months, collecting evidence and having it processed.

He said Plote was picked up by police while on his way to work and questioned as a person of interest.

Ketter said Plote signed a Miranda form, agreeing to speak with police. He was transported to the sheriff’s office in Oregon, where Ketter and Gallick, in addition to Mt. Morris Police Chief Jason White, questioned him for seven hours.

Jurors heard four hours of that interview in which Plote answered few questions and showed little emotion as he sat in the interview with the officers.

Cross examination of Ketter’s testimony is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Friday.

Thursday was the third day of testimony with all witness called as part of the prosecution’s case in chief.

On Tuesday, 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 she 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.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

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