Man released from prison after murder conviction of Johnsburg teen, seeks to be declared “innocent”

Mario Casciaro was released from prison after his conviction for the murder of his teenage co-worker was overturned, but authorities in McHenry County are balking at formally declaring him innocent.

Casciaro — the only person ever convicted in the 2002 disappearance of 17-year-old Brian Carrick — wants a McHenry County judge to grant him a certificate of innocence. But the prosecutors who took Casciaro to trial three times before getting a guilty verdict — once for perjury and twice for murder — have formally opposed the certificate.

If granted, the court document would allow Casciaro to seek compensation from the state for the 22 months he spent in Menard Correctional Center before his conviction for murder with intimidation — a rarely used charge — was reversed on appeal. Innocence certificates can also help exonerated former inmates get employment and generally reintegrate into society.

“It is unfortunate that the McHenry (County) state’s attorney continues to deny this grave miscarriage of justice,” said Casciaro’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, who has won several high-profile murder conviction reversals and now represents Steve Avery, the Wisconsin man from the “Making a Murderer” Netflix series. “We are confident Mr. Casciaro will prevail, even if we have to take this matter all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.”

But prosecutors argue that, although the appeals court determined they lacked sufficient evidence to convict Casciaro, that doesn’t mean he is “actually innocent.”

Casciaro “wishes to cast himself as the victim. He is not. The real victim is lying nameless in an unmarked, unhallowed grave,” prosecutors wrote, in reference to the fact that Carrick’s remains have never been recovered. “The defendant’s disinterest, deceit and contempt … during the investigation exposed his callousness and consciousness of guilt.”

Prosecutors further argued in their 300-page motion that, “even conceding that the state’s evidence of guilt was weak, it does not follow that (Casciaro) is innocent. Rather, (he) must still present evidence of actual innocence that overrides evidence of guilt. (Casciaro) offers no exculpatory physical or DNA evidence, no credible alibi during the time of the attack or thereafter, and no new witnesses or information.”

The case has attracted national attention and has become one of the most notorious murder mysteries in McHenry County. Carrick disappeared days before Christmas 2002 after being seen at the Johnsburg grocery store where he worked with Casciaro, whose family was part owner.

Authorities contended at Casciaro’s two murder trials that Carrick had been dealing marijuana for Casciaro and that he ordered another co-worker, Shane Lamb, to confront Carrick about a debt he owed. Lamb testified that- at both murder trials- he delivered a fatal punch to Carrick inside a grocery store cooler. At Casciaro’s second murder trial in 2013,  Casciaro was convicted of first-degree murder with intimidation and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Prosecutors told jurors that if it were not for Casciaro- acting as the “kingpin”of a drug dealing operation and putting into motion the wheels that led to Carrick’s death- Carrick would not have been killed.

Carrick’s blood was found in and around the cooler, but his body has never been found.

Lamb, who received immunity in the case but is now in prison on an unrelated weapons charge, later said he lied on the witness stand under pressure from prosecutors seeking to convict Casciaro of the murder, a claim officials have vehemently denied.

In their objection to Casciaro’s innocence certificate, prosecutors called Casciaro’s conviction reversal “problematic” and “imprudent.” They cited, for example, witness testimony that supported Lamb’s account, as well as a polygraph test Casciaro took that prosecutors say showed Casciaro being deceptive. They also noted letters Lamb wrote to a local newspaper – while in jail on the weapons’ charges- where he wrote he felt remorse for what happened to Carrick.

They cited trial testimony from one witness who said he saw Casciaro and Carrick arguing that night, as well as testimony from various former grocery store employees,  who said  that Casciaro was selling marijuana and that Carrick worked for him. Prosecutors also pointed to testimony that Carrick owed Casciaro money at the time he disappeared and that Lamb worked as an “enforcer” in Casciaro’s drug business.

In overturning the conviction outright last year, the appellate court noted, among several factors, the lack of physical evidence to convict Casciaro. They also questioned Lamb’s credibility and said his account did not prove intimidation by Casciaro. Additionally, they wrote that details of the alleged physical altercation did not match up with blood spatter found in and around the produce cooler.

“Lamb’s entire testimony was so inconsistent, contradictory and incredible that it was palpably contrary to the verdict,” appellate judges wrote in their ruling.

Prosecutors, however, said Lamb only recanted and claimed he was told what to testify because he was upset about the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence for the weapons charges. They also noted that he had learned he would be featured on a national TV news program about the Carrick case and wanted to “leverage the notoriety and exposure to undercut his prosecution.”

In her appeal, Zellner sought to cast suspicion on another grocery store co-worker, who has since died, as the possible killer. She noted that this man’s blood was found near the crime scene and that he had motive.  Prosecutors called that theory “fantastical” and said it did not match the facts of the case.

After Casciaro’s release from prison in September, prosecutors attempted to have their case heard at the Illinois Supreme Court but were denied.

Carrick’s disappearance and the drawn-out aftermath — nearly eight years went by before Casciaro was charged with the murder — have long been a source of interest and grief in the small town, where both families were well-known. Carrick was one of 14 siblings and his family lived across the street from the grocery store where he was likely killed. His mother, Terry, died months before Casciaro’s arrest. His father, William, saw Casciaro convicted of murdering his son but died before the conviction was overturned.

Prosecutors noted those turns of events in their objection.

“Since Brian’s disappearance … both of his parents have gone to their grave without ever having known their son’s ultimate fate,” they wrote, adding his siblings remain “haunted” by his presumed death.

The filing also noted that the attention given in recent years to wrongful convictions “has aroused a healthy skepticism of convictions reached without” DNA evidence or a firsthand witness account.

“It is important not to attribute injustices elsewhere to circumstances here,” prosecutors wrote. They added that, “If one accepts the criminal justice system is imperfect” and sometimes convicts the wrong person, it follows that the same system sometimes “acquits those who are guilty, in fact.”

Since his release from prison Casciaro, now 33, has pursued admittance to law school and his family has opened up another grocery store in McHenry County.

*I welcome anyone with information/thoughts on this case to contact me.

Attorney asks trial court to agree exonerated man is innocent in Johnsburg murder of teen

Mario Casciaro, the only person imprisoned in connection with the haunting 2002 disappearance and presumed death of a 17-year-old Johnsburg resident — who eventually walked free — is asking a McHenry County judge to officially acceede to his innocence.

Today Casciaro is a free man about to pursue a law degree, and is seeking to have the presiding judge in his conviction, McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather, issue a “Certificate of Innocence.”

The move – essentially asking the trial judge to agree with the ruling of the appellate judges who exonerated Casciaro last year – is a step toward Casciaro seeking compensation from the state for the 22 months he spent inside Menard Correctional Center in Chester Ill. as an innocent man, his attorney Kathleen Zellner said.

Zellner won Casciaro’s freedom last year after arguing details of his conviction in the infamous cold case mystery of missing teen Brian Carrick at the 2nd District Appellate Court in Elgin. On Wednesday, Casciaro’s 33 birthday, she filed the petition in the McHenry County Clerk’s office.

In court Wednesday McHenry County State’s Attorney Michael Combs asked Prather for time to review and respond to the petition. The matter is up next June 29. Outside the courtroom Combs declined to comment.

Prosecutors have stood by their case against Casciaro that he is guilty of first-degree murder with intimidation because he set into motion the events that led to the death of Carrick inside a grocery store cooler on Dec. 20, 2002.

Casciaro, whose family were part owners of what was Val’s Finer Foods in Johnsburg, faced two juries. The first in 2012 ended in a mistrial and the second a year later resulted in his conviction.

Casciaro, who has long maintained his innocence, was sentenced to 26 years in prison. The state’s case relied heavily on the words of another man, Shane Lamb, who said at Casciaro’s instruction he confronted Carrick on a drug dealing debt owed to Casciaro.

Lamb, currently in prison on unrelated weapons charges who received full immunity in the Carrick case in exchange for his testimony, testified that he argued with Carrick inside a produce cooler.

He detailed for jurors in both trials that he became angry and punched Carrick out cold. He told jurors as Carrick laid bleeding and unconscious Casciaro told him to leave and he’d handle the body.

At the time all three men worked at the grocery store.

Carrick’s blood was found in and around the cooler but his body has never been recovered.

In overturning the conviction outright, the appellate court noted, among several factors, the lack of physical evidence to convict Casciaro. They also said that Lamb’s details of the crime did not show there was any intimidation by Casciaro nor did his tale, if at all true, line up with blood spatter found in and around the produce cooler.

“Lamb’s entire testimony was so inconsistent, contradictory and incredible that it was palpably contrary to the verdict,” appellate judges wrote in their ruling.

The judge’s also noted Lamb later said he made up the story at the instruction of McHenry County State’s Attorneys seeking to convict Casciaro. Combs has vehemently denied this accusation.

Zellner has pointed to another man as being responsible for Carrick’s death. But this man was never brought to trial and died of a heroin overdose between Casciaro’s two trials.

After Casciaro’s release from prison in last year, prosecutors said they stood by their case. They attempted to have their case heard at the Illinois Supreme Court. They were denied in March.

Motioning the court to issue the certificate of innocence is a state law sought in cases where a person is exonerated and there is an outright reversal, Zellner explained.

“It is state law. Many of these have been granted to those (wrongfully convicted) who have been released,” Zellner said. “The statute provides that if you have an outright reversal, which is what we have that we can apply for this … I believe that this will be granted.”

After this certificate of innocence is granted, Zellner can move forward with filing a petition with the Illinois Court of Claims for compensation owed to Casciaro for the time he was “wrongfully incarcerated,” she said.

Should the trial court deny the petition Zellner said she would take it to the appellate court.

Carrick was one of 14 children from a strong Irish Catholic family who grew up in the large white farmhouse across the street from the grocery store. Both of his parents, Terry and William, have died without fully knowing what happened to their son. Neither ever turned vengeful in their quest for answers. Over the years, each expressed just wanting to know the truth so they could forgive and move on.

Judge denies change of venue & special prosecutor for Shane Lamb – Trial set to begin Jan. 12

Shane Lamb -best known in McHenry County for providing testimony in a murder trial that landed a Fox Lake man in prison for 26 years – recently lost an attempt to have a special prosecutor try his latest felony when it goes to trial in January.

Lamb, also lost motions for a change of venue and the suppression of evidence that led to his arrest in April. He has been charged with residential burglary, possession of stolen firearms and being an “armed habitual criminal.” He is accused of stealing a safe containing guns and ammunition from the McHenry home of a friend.

His attorney Paul DeLuca argued that because Lamb has a long and sorted history with McHenry County State’s Attorney’s office and with Michael Combs, the chief of the county’s criminal division, he would not receive a fair trial.

Combs, whom DeLuca also subpoenaed to take the stand at the hearing which the judge denied, made a deal with Lamb in 2010 to tell a story that led to the conviction of Mario Casciaro, 31, in the 2002 disappearance and presumed death of Brian Carrick, 17. In exchange for his testimony, Lamb would never face charges in the case.

All three men worked at Val’s Foods, the Casciaro family grocery store, together and allegedly were selling drugs. Carrick, Lamb testified in two trials, was killed over a $500 drug debt he owed Casciaro. Carrick’s body was never found. He said, at Casciaro’s direction he argued with Carrick over the money. He then became angry and punched the boy and may have accidentally killed him inside a produce cooler at the grocery store. Casciaro, Lamb testified, told him he would take care of the body. Carrick’s body has never been found.

But in August Lamb, while sitting in jail awaiting trial for the unrelated theft case, recanted his testimony and said that Combs had coached him on what to tell jurors.

Combs has steadfastly denied any and all accusations made by Lamb.

DeLuca said because of this history with Combs and the state’s attorney’s office, Lamb would not be treated fairly in his upcoming trial.

He said although Combs would not be directly trying the case, attorneys in his office of whom he has control over, would be.

DeLuca motioned to call Combs as a witness during the hearing to ask him about his history with Lamb, but the judge denied that motion saying, having presided over both of Casciaro’s trials – the first ending in a mistrial in 2012 and the second resulting in his conviction in 2013 – she already knows all the details.

DeLuca wanted to ask Combs, given his history with Lamb, a five-time felon who never faced murder charges in the Carrick case, was he “directing his prosecutors in any way to seek the maximum sentence.”

“The defense has the right to challenge (Combs),” DeLuca said.

DeLuca said he has the right to call Combs to ask such questions and ask that he be removed from the case “if there is even an appearance of impropriety.”

He said given Lamb’s recantation in the Casciaro case, accusations against Combs and a recent incident in the courtroom when Lamb called Combs a “bully” there is “personal animus” against Lamb and “certainly an interest now to punish him more severely.”

Assistant State’s Attorney John Gibbons responded by saying that neither Lamb’s criminal history nor his involvement in Casciaro’s case have anything to do with his current situation and how the McHenry County prosecutors will handle it.

Lamb, he said, is the one with “personal animus” toward the prosecutors’ office.

He also is the one who committed a crime for which there is a range of penalties that he will now face, which have nothing to do with his history.

“There is no connection between (Carrick) murder and what he did with our office,” Gibbons said. “All issues and beliefs he has are based on things he has done himself. He chose it himself, he cannot prosecutor shop because he feels we are bullying him.”

To which Prather agreed stating this scenario does not meet certain criteria warranting a special prosecutor.

“This is a case about Shane Lamb,” Prather said. “The Casciaro case has nothing to do with this case. You cannot create cause based on your own actions. … Mr. Lamb has created any alleged (conflict) and he can’t create that conflict and then come here and complain.”

In his motion for change of venue, DeLuca noted more than 100 local newspaper articles and editorials written about Lamb and his long criminal history. He said “it would be a situation” in which he could not get a fair jury.

Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Zalud countered that it is more about Lamb’s own “ego” in believing that so many people are even aware of him.

Though he may be well known in the justice system, it does not mean he is as well known by the local jury pool, Zalud said.

“I think he will be shocked how many (people) don’t know or care about him, or forgot about him,” Zalud said.

Prather said that jurors will have to make a commitment to set aside what they may know and denied the motion for change of venue. However, she said she will reconsider the motion during jury selection if there appears to be an issue at the time of jury selection.

Prather also denied a motion to suppress evidence. DeLuca asked that the lineup in which he was identified by a neighbor be quashed. He said that the neighbor had been shown the same photo by the alleged victim prior to the police showing it to her in a lineup in which she identified Lamb as one who stole the safe.

A hearing has been set for Jan. 7 when DeLuca plans to argue motions to drop two counts of the indictment. He is expected to argue the state drop a class X charge of unlawful possession of weapons by a felon. The charge states that as a convicted felon he was in possession of a machine gun that was inside the safe he is alleged to have stolen. DeLuca states that there never was a machine gun inside the safe. He also will argue to dismiss a charge of “armed habitual criminal” because, DeLuca said, Lamb has never been convicted of a “forceable felony.”

Lamb’s father Dan Sinkovitz of Lake Bluff was present at the hearing.
He said his son has been treated unfairly by McHenry County prosecutors for years dating back to his first felony conviction of attempted murder when Lamb was just 14.

In that case Lamb was with another minor who shot at a woman in a local bakery. Though she lived, the boys were punished. One boy went off to a private treatment facility while Lamb when to a tough juvenile detention center in Illinois, he said.

His father believes that while the other boy went to a facility where he was rehabilitated, his son was sentenced to an institution where he was abused and beaten by tough street gang members.

Instead of rehabilitation, his son was hardened.

Sinkovitz said he tried to be there for his son, and help him get on the right path, but it seems, trouble always seemed to find him.

He said he is not surprised that the judge denied his son’s motions.

“It’s happened all along the way why shouldn’t it happen again,” he said.

Lamb’s January 12 trial is still set to go as planned.

Casciaro has maintained that he has no knowledge of what happened to Carrick and has pointed the finger at another Johnsburg man who died in 2012.

His case is still on appeal.

Mental illness, substance abuse and prescription drugs lead to gruesome murder in a small town

A Woodstock man who suffered from “severe bi-polar episodes” and experienced a psychotic break due to medication, according to expert witnesses, was sentenced Thursday to 30 years for the brutal murder of a homeless man in 2009.

As Kyle Morgan, 29, was led away by McHenry County Sheriff’s deputies he and his family said “I love you” to each other. Deputies denied requests for hugs from his parents.

Morgan pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first-degree murder in July for stabbing to death Robin A. Burton Jr., a homeless man, whose last known address was in Rockford.

The two had just met that day on Jan. 18, 2009. They were hanging out at Morgan’s apartment drinking beer and playing video games when out of no where Morgan attacked Burton with a hammer and a knife, said Morgan’s attorney Steven Greenberg.

Authorities said it was a gruesome crime scene inside Morgan’s apartment where  Morgan admitted to stabbing and bludgeoning Burton.

Kyle Morgan took the stand and apologized to Burton’s family.

“I wish I could change the past,” Kyle Morgan said adding that he had struggled for years with his mental illness and drugs and alcohol.

He said he wants to share his story of mental illness and addictions with others.

“I hope I have the chance to thrive in a positive way,” he said.

Prior to sentencing Jonathan Howard, a forensic psychiatrist, testified for the defense that Morgan’s bi-polar, which causes aggression, violence, irritability, depression, mania and poor judgement, was profoundly affected by the prescription drug Vyvanse.

Two expert witnesses said he should have never been prescribed Vyvanse.

He was prescribed Vyvanse in the summer of 2008. Prior to then he had not exhibited violent behavior against others, defense attorneys said.

“Vyvanse should not be given to a person who is bi-polar,” Howard said.

Vyvanse is “particularly powerful” in increasing dopamine in the brain, which can exacerbate bi-polar symptoms, Howard said.

“(Kyle Morgan) should not have been given Vyvanse,” Howard said.

On the day of the murder Morgan doubled up on his Vyvanse and did not take other mood balancing medications he was supposed to be taking.  He often did not take his drugs as prescribed.

He did not have street drugs in his system on the day of the murder, but over the years had abused heroine, cocaine, crack, and he huffed aerosols.

“He was born with a disease and that disease is directly related to what happened here,” said Greenberg in asking for the lesser sentence of 20 years. “This (mental illness) is a birth defect on the inside.”

After the sentencing Greenberg said that McHenry County Judge Michael Feeterer showed “compassion” in handing down the sentence.

As he walked out of the courtroom Greenberg said that at the end of many years of his family searching for the proper care for their son’s mental illness and drug addiction, Morgan was a victim of  “some really bad psychiatric care.”

Morgan had faced up to 36 years.

“This was a horrific, horrific brutal crime,” Michael Combs chief of the criminal division said during closing arguments.  “He chose to abuse drugs and not take medications the way he was prescribed. He killed a man and fled the state.”

After murdering Burton, Morgan left the area and was arrested in Nashville Tennessee.

In asking for the maximum sentence, Combs said if Morgan received just 20 years “He’s out in his forties, he can get out and do this to somebody else. He’s a danger.”

Kyle’s father, Dean Morgan, of Fontana Wi., said his son had battled depression since he was in middle school.

He said his son often cut and stabbed himself, and had attempted to kill himself at least eight times since he was 16.  In that first attempted suicide Morgan tried to jump off of a ten-story apartment building balcony, his father said.

The elder Morgan also said his son had his first drink of alcohol at age 8.

Often choking back tears, Morgan described how he had sent his son to several out-patient and in-patient rehabilitation programs over the years.

He said when his son would come home from a rehab program he would be “an absolutely new person.”

“When sober he was well-liked … had motivation … wanted to go to college,” Morgan said.

But that would be short-lived and within two to three months his son would relapse.

“It would be obvious, no question, he was using,” Morgan said.

James Cavanaugh, forensic psychologist, also testified for the defense and said the crime scene photos show the killing was “highly disorganized.”

The photos showed the “classic, disorganized, impulsive and chaotic crime scene consistent with somebody who is mentally ill,” he said.

In describing the gruesome crime scene, Cavanaugh said Morgan wrote on the wall in a mixture of his own blood and the victim’s blood:  “It is better to reign In hell then to serve in heaven.”

Cavanaugh continued saying that Morgan “desecrated” Burton’s body, which had at least 30 slashes on the head, back, chest and face. He said chunks of the body were cut off and Morgan had laid three Uno playing cards across his chest, each with the number 6 on them.

In “dark” poems Morgan wrote, Cavanaugh said it shows he is “fascinated” with satan worship, the occult, violence and terror. Morgan also had written letters to serial killers Richard Ramirez and Dennis Rader the BTK serial killer. He told Ramirez he admired him. He asked Rader what it was like to murder and if he missed murdering.

All of this, Cavanaugh said, in addition to the bi-polar and depression, shows that Morgan is severely mentally ill. And although he committed this “crazy” crime he knew right from wrong.

Cavanaugh had been asked early on in the case, by the defense, if Morgan was insane at the time of the crime, and he said no. Cavanaugh said although he was severely ill he still knew right from wrong.

After the sentencing,  family members of both Morgan and Burton embraced and apologized to one another.

Cavanaugh said, in his opinion, Morgan would not commit another murder.

“I think it’s a low risk” that Morgan would re-offend when he is released from prison, he testified.

He said in prison he would be getting the proper treatment, healing and as people age they are less likely to do drugs and drink like when they were younger.

Over the years leading up to the murder, doctors and his parents expressed a fear he would either kill himself or someone else.

In 2007 a doctor and his parents tried having Morgan involuntarily committed into a psychiatric hospital. Those close to Morgan said his behavior was “rapidly accelerating downward,” Cavanaugh said.

A Lake County judge denied this saying he did not appear to be a threat to himself or anyone else. But Cavanaugh said this was only because at the time the judge saw Morgan, he was properly taking his medications.

Rick Johnson of Woodstock,  Burton’s uncle said he and his family want to move on and he hopes that Morgan gets the treatment he needs. He described his nephew as “just a normal kid.”

“We are a strong family, it’s been tough, we are a strong family,” Johnson said.

Mario Casciaro denied new trial, facing 20 to 60 years in prison

A McHenry County judge on Tuesday denied Mario Casciaro – what would have been his third murder trial, – in the murder of a coworker last seen alive on the evening of Dec. 20, 2002.

She also denied his motion to toss out the jury’s guilty conviction all together and set his sentencing date for Nov. 14. He faces 20 to 60 year in prison.

 

“I’m devastated, it’s not fair,” said his mother, Maria, outside the courtroom after McHenry County Circuit Court Judge Sharon Prather swiftly gave her decision and handed attorneys a 20-page document detailing her decision.

 

 

Casciaro, 30, who has been held in custody since being found guilty of first-degree murder with intimidation in April shook his head from side to side in apparent disbelief at his fate as he was escorted back into custody by McHenry County Sheriff’s officers.

 

Casciaro was found guilty of first degree murder with intimidation in the disappearance and presumed murder of Brian Carrick, 17. Carrick’s blood was found in and around a produce cooler Val’s Grocery Store in Johnsburg where he worked as a stock boy with Casciaro. Casciaro’s family were part owners of the store at the time.

 

During the trial witnesses said Carrick owed Casciaro a $500 debt in drug dealing  money.

 

Shane Lamb, who also worked at the grocery store and sold pot for Casciaro, testified in both murder trials for the prosecution against Casciaro.

 

The first murder trial ended in a hung jury last year.

 

Lamb testified said that Casciaro told him to come to the store to “talk” to Carrick to help collect his money. Lamb, who was given immunity in the case in exchange for his testimony, said while confronting Carrick he became angry and punched him.

 

Lamb said Carrick fell backward to the ground, inside the cooler, unconscious, he then left the store, not knowing what had happened to Carrick’s body.

 

Lamb, nor anyone else at the store that evening, nor his family or friends, has ever seen Carrick again.

 

His body has never been found.

 

Defense attorney Brian Telander argued that Casciaro should not have been found guilty of intimidation because he only told Lamb to “talk” to Carrick.

 

 

In her written ruling, which denied motions to throw out the guilty verdict, as well as, denied a motion for a new trial, Prather wrote “Under the facts of this case the court concludes that there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could infer that defenant  and Shane Lamb intended to use whatever force necessary to intimidate Brian Carrick into paying the money he owed ….. .”

 

 

She also wrote that “There was no other reason for the defendant to call Lamb back to Val’s other than to intimidate Carrick and act as the defendant’s muscle.”

 

Telander also argued that several mistakes had been made during the trial, including being cut off during closing arguments.

 

To which Prather cited case law that says “Presiding judge must be and is given great latitude in controlling the duration and limiting the scope of closing summations. He may limit counsel to a reasonable time and may terminate argument when continuation would be repetitive or redundant.”

 

“In 35 years of practice, I’ve never seen closing arguments cut off by a judge in murder case, ever,” Telander said.

 

 

Telander said after sentencing, he along with Kathleen Zellner, a high-profile defense lawyer from Chicago, will take the case to the appellate courts for an appeal.

 

“I’m extremely confident in a successful appeal,” Telander said. “I have never seen a case that has had this many legitimate issues.”

 

Michael Combs, chief of the criminal division, said he was “not surprised” by the judge’s ruling.

 

“I was confident we were gonna prevail,” Combs said. “The law was on our side. I’m sick and tired of his family acting like he was railroaded, that we were making stuff up….It’s a bunch of nonsense.”

 

Brian’s dad William Carrick left the courtroom without comment.

 

 

 

Mario Casciaro seeking a new trial

As Mario Casciaro walked out of lock up and into a McHenry County courtroom wearing county issued orange garb, he blew a kiss to family members who were in court in the hopes of having his murder conviction overturned.

But they all will need to wait until Sept. 24 for Judge Sharon Prather to make her ruling.

Casciaro, 30, appeared in court on a motion to appeal his conviction. He has been in jail since being found guilty in April of first-degree murder with intimidation, in the murder of 17-year-old Brian Carrick.

Carrick worked as a stockboy with Casciaro at Val’s Foods in Johnsburg. The grocery store was partly owned by the Casciaro family at the time.

Carrick was last seen alive with Casciaro and Shane Lamb on the evening of Dec. 20, 2002.

Casciaro has long been accused of calling in Lamb to collect a $500 drug debt from Carrick.

This was Casciaro’s second first-degree murder trial. The first trial ended last year in a hung jury.

During both trials, Lamb, who has received immunity in the case in exchange for his testimony, testified that Casciaro asked him to come to the grocery store and help collect his money. Lamb further testified that he became angry with Carrick and punched him and Carrick fell to the ground inside the cooler unconscious. Blood was coming from his nose. Lamb said he then left and doesn’t know what happened to Carrick after that. Lamb said he never saw Carrick again.

Prosecutors have long said that Casciaro knowingly used Lamb as an “enforcer,” “intimidator” and “thug” to get the money from Carrick.

Brian Telander, Casciaro’s attorney, argued that even Lamb himself testified in both trials that he was never told by Casciaro to hurt or intimidate Carrick.

“At no time did (Casciaro) tell Shane Lamb to threaten (Carrick) to get the money,” Telander said adding that at no time did Casciaro tell Lamb to “intimidate,” or “kick his butt,” or “scare him to get the money.”

“He told Lamb ‘come and talk to (Brian),’” Telander insisted. “Come talk to him about the money.”

Telander said that the jury’s conviction was wrong and not based on evidence that was “believable beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“The jury got it wrong,” he said during the hearing.  “Lamb said he got there, got in an argument … ‘I lost my temper and I hit him.’” At no time did he say he threatened Brian Carrick. … “At no time did (Mario) say anything or do anything or make a threat. Shane Lamb only acted out of anger.”

Investigators have said that Carrick’s blood was found in and around the produce cooler where witnesses testified to last seeing him with Casciaro and Lamb.  His blood also was found on boxes in an outside garbage dumpster behind the store.

His body has never been found.

Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally strongly disagreed with Telander’s claims.

“If Shane Lamb wasn’t there to intimidate Brian Carrick, then exactly what was he there to do?” Kenneally said. “Why couldn’t (Casciaro) just ask Brian Carrick for the money? Shane Lamb had a reputation for violence. Shane Lamb was known as a person who was violent, he was known as the person to collect the money for Mario Casciaro.”

Kenneally pointed out that Lamb was a big guy in comparison to Carrick’s small frame.

“Shane Lamb is intimidating,” Kenneally said. “Shane Lamb will engage in violence. It’s just that simple. The defendant was well aware of what he was doing when he brought Shane Lamb in.”

Outside the courtroom, Telander said he was “encouraged” that (Prather) is taking this seriously.  I’m thrilled she’s doing this.”

Along side Telander stood Kathleen Zellner, a high-profile attorney known on a national level for representing people whose civil rights have been violated, according to her website.

Telander said should his motion to overturn the conviction not be successful in Prather’s courtroom, Zellner will take the case on to the appellate court.

Zellner said  Casciaro was wrongfully convicted of intimidation in a case where there was “no threat at all and no weapons.”

“No court in the U.S. would support this conviction,” Zellner said adding that she is “confident” his conviction will be reversed.

In an earlier emailed statement, Mario’s sister, Joanne Casciaro, wrote that prosecutors used her brother as a “scapegoat, so they can say they solved the case.”

The family declined to comment further after the hearing.

But before parting ways after the hearing Jerry Casciaro, Mario’s father, approached William Carrick, Brian’s father. Both, broken hearted men who love their sons. The father of the accused and the father of the victim shook hands.

A sign of healing, forgiveness in a tragedy that has overshadowed one small town and hurt many lives over the last decade?  Maybe.

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