Ogle County jury finds Malta man guilty of strangling Mt. Morris woman

Matthew Plote walks to the defense table during the first day of his trial at the Ogle County Judicial Center in Oregon on Monday, March 18, 2024.

OREGON – An Ogle County jury has found a Malta man guilty of murdering a Mt. Morris woman and her unborn baby and then setting her home on fire in an attempt to conceal the deaths.

Jurors deliberated for two hours Friday night before finding Matthew T. Plote, 36, of Malta, guilty of killing Melissa Lamesch, 27, on Nov. 25, 2020, just one day before Thanksgiving and two days before her full-term baby was to be born.

He was found guilty of 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, showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

He was remanded to the Ogle County Correctional Center, where he has been held since his March 2022 arrest. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges. HIs next court date is a post-trial status hearing set for 3:30 p.m. April 25.

The six-person jury, composed of four women and two men, was sent to the jury room to begin their decision process at 5:08 p.m. after hearing from one defense witness and closing arguments from attorneys.

Plote chose not to take the stand during the 5-day trial held at the Ogle County Judicial Center.

In closing arguments late Friday afternoon, Assistant State’s Attorney Heather Kruse asked jurors to use their common sense and find Plote guilty. She said one of Lamesch’s sisters was on a telephone call with her when Plote arrived at the home.

That sister, Cassie Baal, testified earlier in the week that Lamesch said Plote was at her door and Melissa would call her back shortly, as soon as he left.

“Melissa never called her back when he left because she was dead,” said Kruse, adding Plote left by the home’s back door so no one could see him leave.

Kruse said Plote’s DNA linked him to the violence done to Lamesch and she disputed his claim that they had had consensual sex.

“This was a violent sexual encounter,” Kruse said. “There was blunt force trauma to her head before her death. She fought back. He’s the one that strangled the life out of her. Nobody else had the motive to murder her.”

Defense attorney John Kopp told jurors in his closing comments that 469 days had passed between Lamesch’s death and Plote’s charges. He accused police of being “laser-focused” on his client and chose not to question any other of Lamesch’s other boyfriends.

He said Plote chose to remain silent during portions of interviews with police because he was innocent of all the charges.

“He didn’t do anything. He is innocent,” Kopp said. “You can’t hold my client’s silence against him. This is a very emotional case. Your decision needs to be based on facts, not emotions.”

Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock told jurors there was no doubt Plote killed Lamesch and the baby.

“Follow the evidence, it leads to one person,” said Rock, describing a defense theory that another “mystery” person committed the crime as “ridiculous”.

“Take his demeanor into account,” Rock told jurors.

On Thursday, jurors watched a 4-hour video recording with Plote from August 2021, in which two Ogle County detectives accused the Carol Stream paramedic of strangling Lamesch and her unborn baby because he didn’t want the birth of his son to interfere with his “carefree Playboy lifestyle”.

Lieutenant Brian Ketter, chief investigator for the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office, testified he and two other law enforcement officers interviewed Plote nine months after the deaths, on Aug. 28, 2021, after analysis of collected evidence and completed autopsy reports had been received.

In another interview, Plote said he had been at Lamesch’s home that day 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.

Plote worked for the Carol Stream Fire District as a paramedic and had also been a volunteer with the Malta Fire Department.

He said he and Lamesch had an “off and on” relationship and she told him in April 2020 that she was pregnant. Plote said he asked her about having an abortion and she said no.

He claimed they had “hooked up” a few times before he went to her home in Mt. Morris at around 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”.

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.

On Thursday, jurors heard four hours of that interview during which Plote answered few questions and exercised his right to remain silent. He showed little emotion as he sat in the corner of the interview room with Ketter, and detective Chad Gallick. Mt. Morris Police Chief Jason White also participated in a portion of that interview.

Ketter and Gallick accused Plote of having other girlfriends and claimed he didn’t want them finding out he had been cheating on them if they learned about Lamesch and her pregnancy.

“Your child was going to be interfering with your lifestyle. Your world was about to change dramatically,” Ketter said referring to Lamesch’s Nov. 27, 2020 labor inducement date. “You took care of that problem, but you created a much bigger one for yourself.”

Ketter accused Plote of leaving his cell phone at his home when he drove to Mt. Morris in an attempt to hide his whereabouts from police. Near the end of the recording, Ketter said cameras had captured images with time stamps of Plote’s car as he traveled to Mt. Morris that day.

The detectives accused Plote of strangling Lamesch because he didn’t want to financially support the baby. Ketter said Plote’s parents only found out about the pregnancy because Lamesch had told them. He told police he had never met Lamesch’s parents or other members of her family.

Ketter, Gallick, and White asked Plote numerous times over the 4-hour video recording if he accidentally killed Lamesch. Many times they asked “what happened” and “why did you strangle her” and he chose not to respond.

At one point Plote said, “You asked that already.”

Plote did say that he did not “hate” Lamesch and “never wanted to hurt her”. He did not elaborate on those statements when questioned again by the officers. He also remained silent when they asked him if he killed Lamesch.

When shown the autopsy photos of Lamesch and the baby, Plote appeared not to react and again remained silent.

“Something happened in that house that set you off in a fit of rage,” said Ketter. “You choked her, you beat her. To cover up what you did that day was to start a fire in the house. You thought that fire would hide everything. But there wasn’t enough fire damage. She was dead before you lit that fire to cover up what you did to her.”

“We are going to have to speculate because you won’t talk to us,” Ketter said. “You went there to kill them. You didn’t go there to talk about money you went there to kill her and you lit the fire to cover it up.”

Gallick asked Plote how many times he called to ask about the investigation in the nine months since the deaths.

“Zero,” Plote replied.

“I told you my door is open. Why didn’t you reach out to me?” asked Gallick. “Melissa’s family calls every week, sometimes twice a week.”

Both Ketter and Gallick tried to use Plote’s career as a paramedic and firefighter in an attempt to solicit a response during the interrogation. And they appealed to him to provide more answers to give the Lamesch family “closure”.

“What changed you from a person working in a profession to saving lives to killing?” asked Ketter. “Why Matt?”

“You are a grown man, stop acting like you are 14 and let’s talk about this,” said Gallick.

On Friday, defense attorney Liam Dixon questioned Ketter’s investigation technique and accused officers of focusing just on Plote and not on any of Lamesch’s other acquaintances.

“In fact, you were only looking at Matt,” Dixon said to Ketter.

He said despite interrogation tactics used during the interrogation, Plote utilized his right to remain silent because he was not guilty.

“He told you she was still alive when he left,” said Dixon. “You had nothing that showed he had a history of domestic violence.”

“Correct,” replied Ketter.

Dixon said Plote told investigators in the interrogation that he did not “drive anywhere with the intention of killing anyone”.

“Do you have any shred of evidence that anyone else was involved in the murder of Ms. Lamesch,” asked Dixon.

“No,” replied Ketter.

“And you weren’t looking,” Dixon replied back.

On Thursday, two firefighters/paramedics from the Carol Stream Fire District testified on Thursday that they were on a shift with Plote on Nov. 28, 2020, and he never mentioned the fire or the deaths.

Under cross examination, they said Plote was a “reserved” person and they never discussed personal matters and did not socialize after shifts.

Earlier in the week, 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 cheek swabs taken from the dead baby.

Michael Poel, an investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, also ruled the fire as incendiary and testified 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 of the home.

But on Friday, Plote’s defense team of Dixon and Kopp, called their own fire expert, and the defense’s only witness, John Knapp, who was critical of Poel’s report claiming it was not as “extensive” or “thorough” as it should have been.

Plote exercised his right not to take the stand and testify.

Knapp, a part-owner of Fire Tech Inc., based in East Peoria, said he had been contracted by the defense team to analyze reports in connection with the case.

He said he would not have determined the fire as incendiary in nature and it was possible the fire started with a small appliance.

Under cross examination by Rock, Knapp admitted he had never testified in a homicide case and had not seen a second autopsy report performed on Lamesch.

“You didn’t place any weight to the fact there was a murdered woman lying on the floor,” Rock said. “Are you disputing Mr. Poel as an expert?”

“No,” replied Knapp.

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

Poel said 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.

Rock said the insurance company who had a policy on the home had conducted their own report on the fire and had ruled out all the appliances. “State Farm checked all the appliances and they were clean,” Rock said.

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

Gus Lamesch, her father, said she moved back into the family home to live with him on Oct. 11, 2020 because she was scheduled to have her labor induced on Nov. 27.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

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