Plote sentenced to life in prison for murder of Melissa Lamesch

Matthew Plote, 36, of Malta, enters an Ogle County courtroom on Thursday, June 27, 2024. He was sentenced to natural life in prison for killing Melissa Lamesch, 27, of Mt. Morris in November 2020.

OREGON — Calling it a “brutal crime,” Ogle County Judge John “Ben” Roe sentenced Matthew Plote, 36, of Malta to life in prison Thursday for the November 2020 murder of Melissa Lamesch and her full-term, unborn son.

Lamesch, 27, of Mt. Morris, was 9 months pregnant with Plote’s baby when she was found dead inside her burning home on Nov. 25, 2020.

Plote was convicted March 22 of killing Lamesch just one day before Thanksgiving and two days before their baby was to be born.

Jurors deliberated for two hours before finding him 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.

Roe announced the sentence after hearing victim impact statements from Lamesch’s mother, father and sister, and arguments from Assistant State’s Attorney Heather Kruse and one of Plote’s defense attorneys, John Kopp.

Gus Lamesch, Melissa’s father, told the court his life was “forever changed” when his home was destroyed and his daughter and soon-to-be grandson were murdered in a “premeditated and senseless” act. He said he could not continue to live in the home because of the horrors he saw when he was finally allowed back in.

“Going in and seeing the spot on the floor where she was found and seeing all the baby items scattered about and finding her adopted cat, Antonio, deceased under the bed as he tried to escape the fire,” Gus said. “I could not go back to the horrors there.”

He said Melissa was in the prime of her life and was looking forward to having the baby, whom she already had named Barrett.

“The court process was very hard, seeing the monster who killed my daughter,” Gus said. “Melissa and Barrett should still be alive.”

Melissa’s mother, Deanna, of Malta, said she and her family lived in fear as the investigation into the death took 469 days before Plote was charged.

“He [Plote] got to be free, and I lived in fear and anxiety,” Deanna said, adding that Plote worked for the Malta EMS as a paramedic, knew where she lived and would drive by her home. “I felt we were being watched.”

She said she and her family had waited 1,213 days for a guilty verdict. “It has been 1,310 days to get here today,” Deanna said.

Melissa and Barrett’s deaths have changed her outlook on life, causing her to become withdrawn and affecting her spiritually, Deanna said.

“None of this had to happen. All he had to do was walk away.”

During the trial, detectives accused Plote, a Carol Stream paramedic, of strangling Lamesch because he didn’t want the birth of his son to interfere with his “carefree playboy lifestyle.”

In an initial police interview on Nov. 25. 2020, Plote told detectives that 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 told police he stayed “about an hour” at Lamesch’s home 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.

He chose not to take the stand during the jury trial.

Cassie Baal, Lamesch’s older sister, told jurors that she was on the phone with her sister when Plote appeared at the family’s childhood home the day she died. “She said she would make the conversation quick and would call me right back,” Baal testified.

Prosecutors argued that Lamesch never called Baal back because Plote had killed her and then set the home on fire.

At the sentencing hearing, Baal said her sister had “joy in her voice” before “evil” arrived at her door. She said she is continually “swimming in grief” and regrets things she might have said during the phone call.

“If only I had told her not to go to the door. If only I would have known what was about to happen to her, maybe we would not be here today,” Baal said tearfully.

Kruse argued that Plote intentionally put an entire neighborhood at risk when he set the home on fire after killing Melissa.

“This is an abhorrent crime,” Kruse said. “The sentence should also deter anyone else from ever crossing this line.”

She said the crimes were especially “sick” because Plote had been employed in a profession that was supposed to help people.

“This is a horror story that Melissa and her family never saw coming,” Kruse said. “This was a pregnant woman and his child. If he could do this to his own baby no one is safe from him. This was a cruel murder. She trusted this man. She let him into her home.”

Kruse argued for a life sentence and said evidence at the trial indicated Melissa had died while fighting for her life and her baby’s.

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.

Forensic pathologists, Dr. Mark Peters and Dr. Amanda Youmans, told jurors that Lamesch was strangled before firefighters recovered her from her burning home.

They testified that abrasions on Lamesch’s face and scalp and bruises on her legs and thighs all occurred before she died and no elevated levels of carbon monoxide were found in Lamesch’s blood. Her “full-term male fetus” had no abnormalities. Lamesch also had minimal thermal wounds, they testified.

Youmans said Lamesch’s neck, face, eyes and larynx all showed signs of strangulation. Hemorrhages in the muscles in her neck were also caused by pressure being applied to that area, and when she cleaned soot and debris from Lamesch’s body she discovered more injuries 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.”

“Her injuries were consistent with her fighting back,” Kruse said in arguing for a sentence of life in prison. “The terror she must have felt while she was fighting for her life and her baby’s life ... this defendant should never be free again. That is a just sentence for this man’s action in wiping out these two lives.”

Plote’s attorney, Liam Dixon, said Plote had spent his entire career helping people as a paramedic and said he had also been an Eagle Scout. “He [Plote] has zero criminal history,” Dixon said. “We ask the court to consider that.”

When asked by Roe if he wanted to make a statement before the sentence was given Plote softly said: “I share the pain and loss of Melissa and Barrett.”

Roe said he considered all arguments and evidence, and in addition to the life sentence, sentenced Plote to 60 years in prison for the death of the baby and 15 years in prison for setting the Lamesch home on fire in an attempt to conceal the deaths. The sentences will be served concurrently.

Roe said the sentences were appropriate, despite Plote’s lack of criminal history, when considering Lamesch was “fighting for her life and her baby boy’s life” for 4 to 6 minutes as she was strangled to death.

Mt. Morris firefighters testified they were called to the Lamesch home on South Hannah Ave., about 4:30 p.m. Nov. 25, 2020, 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.

Lamesch was a 2011 graduate of Oregon High School and an emergency medical technician at Trace Ambulance Service in Tinley Park. She moved back into the family home in October 2020 and was scheduled to have her labor induced Nov. 27.

Attorney reaction

Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock said he was pleased with the sentence. “We believe the court got it right,” Rock said. “This crime and justice demanded a natural life sentence. I would like thank law enforcement and Assistant State’s Attorneys Heather Kruse and Allison Huntley for their hard work and dedication to this case.”

Defense attorney John Kopp said he and Dixon plan to file an appeal.

“We understand the court’s position. We do believe that we have several issues to take up on appeal and our client intends to do that. Our hearts go out to the family. We’re very sorry for their loss,” Kopp said.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

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