Man freed from prison after reversal of murder conviction of Johnsburg Ill. teen suing for “millions”

Mario Casciaro – convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison for the 2002 murder of a Johnsburg Ill. teen and later released – is suing those who brought on his conviction for “millions” of dollars.

After two murder trials, the first ending in a hung jury, Casciaro, 33,
was convicted in 2013 for the murder of 17-year-old Brian Carrick in a mysterious case that has rattled the quiet far northwest town.

The jury found Casciaro guilty of the rarely used charge of murder with intimidation, meaning he set into motion the events that led to Carrick’s death.

Carrick worked as a stock boy at a grocery store across the street from his home on Johnsburg Road. He was a well-liked boy who grew up in a large Irish Catholic family with 13 siblings.

The store, at the time named “Val’s Finer Foods” was partially owned by the Casciaro family. Authorities have long said that Casciaro sold pot from the grocery store and used Carrick as one of his dealers.

During both trials, a third co-worker, Shane Lamb the alleged “muscle” of the operation according to prosecutors, said Casciaro summoned him to the store on the night of Dec. 20 2002 to “talk” to Carrick about a drug dealing debt.

The confrontation turned violent and Lamb testified that he punched Carrick knocking him unconscious on the floor inside a produce cooler. He said Casciaro told him to leave the store and he would take care of the body.

Lamb said he never saw Carrick again.

Carrick’s blood was located in an around the cooler area and on boxes in a dumpster outside the store – but his body has never been found.

Rumors of his disappearance and presumed murder swirled around the small town nestled near the Wisconsin border for nearly a decade before Casciaro’s arrest.

In 2010, while facing a lengthy prison term in an unrelated drug case, Lamb — with a growing rap sheet who gave varying accounts to authorities over the years of what happened to Carrick — was given a deal to testify against Casciaro in exchange for immunity.

But, in a nationalized television program, while in jail facing weapons charges, Lamb recanted the tale he told on the stand twice and accused prosecutors of telling him what to say to convict Casciaro — accusations prosecutors vehemently deny.

About a year later, Casciaro was released from prison after an appellate court ruled that the state’s case was improbable and Lamb’s testimony did not match the physical evidence found at the scene.

The appellate judges also believed Casciaro’s lawyer Kathleen Zellner who asserted there was blood evidence and testimony that the jury never heard that did not match up with Lamb’s story. She claims blood evidence shows Carrick died not by a punch and fall to the cold, concrete floor, but by a knife wound to the neck.

Zellner pointed the finger at another store employee, whose blood also was found in and around the cooler. In earlier police interviews this man was asked why his blood would be found in the cooler and he said he often bit his nails low and he would bleed. This man was never charged with the murder and had died of a drug overdose while staying in a halfway house sometime between the two trials. In 2008, he was charged with concealment in the case but those charges were later dropped.

In the lawsuit, Casciaro is seeking monetary damages from Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs, McHenry County and the entire McHenry County State’s Attorney’s office, as well as Johnsburg Police Chief Keith Von Allmen, the city of Johnsburg and the entire Johnsburg Police Department.

In the lawsuit, Zellner accuses authorities of “deliberately withholding” exculpatory evidence including this other co-workers behavior in the days after Carrick went missing and his alleged absence during his work shift. She wrote that evidence was not shown to jurors that would have shone light on this man as the “actual culprit.”

The lawsuit also accuses Von Allmen of being biased in the investigation because he was friends with this man’s father. The motion further claims interviews were not reported or presented to jurors regarding witnesses where it was supposedly said that this man had “hostility” toward Carrick.

Zellner, who requested a jury trial in the civil matter, also made strong claims that Combs out of his “sheer dislike” of Casciaro “fabricated” and “concocted” the story that jurors heard Lamb testify to. She claims that authorities knew Casciaro was innocent and ignored evidence that could have been presented to jurors to show his innocence.

Zellner claims that Casciaro’s ”unjust conviction” was done “intentionally” and was a violation of his rights resulting in a loss of his freedom, emotional distress, great mental anguish … humiliation, indignities, and embarrassment … natural psychological development … personal contact .. personal fulfillment … .”

The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s office firmly stands by its prosecution of Casciaro and zealously denies any wrongdoing or fabrication of any type.

Prosecutors have argued their case was not based solely on Lamb’s account of what happened that night -as Zellner asserts- but also by testimony of several other witnesses who testified that Casciaro was selling marijuana out of the store and Carrick owed him money. During the trials they identified one man who claimed he saw the two allegedly arguing that night. Prosecutors also stand by one witness who testified that Casciaro allegedly claimed that he can “make people disappear.” They also note to another  witness who testified that Casciaro allegedly told him a similar account of what happened the night Carrick went missing. They further point to Casciaro’s own alleged unaccounted for whereabouts for a period of time that night and his own inconsistent stories and behavior during police interviews as disinterested and arrogant.

Authorities in the case say they are not surprised by the latest motion.

“We knew this was coming,” said McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally who along with Combs prosecuted Casciaro. “This is an opportunistic lawsuit filed on behalf of a defendant convicted of felony murder by a McHenry County jury. The allegations in the lawsuit, while imaginative, are entirely without merit. We are eager for our day in court to prove where the real injustice lies and, once again, the sad truth about what happened to Brian Carrick in 2002.”

Casciaro’s release was held up by the Illinois Supreme Court which denied the state’s objection.

Casciaro, who is currently attending law school, also is seeking a certificate of innocence from the county. In an earlier court hearing Kenneally passionately argued that just because the appellate court ruled there was not sufficient evidence to convict Casciaro “beyond a reasonable doubt” that  is a “far cry from declaring him innocent.”  This matter will be back in court May 11.

Carrick’s parents, William and Terry, both have died not knowing what happened to their son or allowed the opportunity to properly bury or grieve him.

Neither Von Allmen nor Carrick’s family could be reached for comment.

In past statements, a family member of the co-worker on whom Zellner places the blame for Carrick’s death, has strongly defended his innocence. He was not identified by name in this story because he was not charged with murder, never testified in the Casciaro case and has since died.  The relative and the man’s former lawyer have voiced strong opposition and disgust with this man being used as a “scapegoat” in Carrick’s death, and have asked that his name not continue to be tarnished.  The female relative has described this man as a son, brother and father and proclaimed he had nothing to do with Carrick’s murder.

Man sentenced to prison after violating probation for delivering heroin that ended his young girlfriend’s life

After violating the “gift” of probation received last year for delivering the heroin that led to his 21-year-old girlfriend’s death, a McHenry County Illinois man was again scolded by the presiding judge then sentenced to three years in prison.

Though with time served and day-for-day credit authorities say Cody Hillier, 25, will likely spend just days in an Illinois Department of Corrections facility.

Hillier admitted to using drugs in October which violated terms of his two year probation he received in July. After his arrest he was remanded back to McHenry County jail to await his sentencing.

“What is it going to take to get you off drugs and turn your life around,” asked Judge Sharon Prather, the same judge who sentenced him to probation in July and told him he must testify against anyone related to his girlfriend’s death.

Last month Hillier, dressed in orange jail issued clothing, testified against James Linder, 36, of Zion. He said on Jan. 30, 2015 he bought 1 1/2 grams of heroin from Linder. He testified that he ingested the heroin throughout the day with his girlfriend who died hours later in the early morning hours of Jan. 31.

When help arrived Hillier lied and said his girlfriend was having an asthma attack delaying the use of naloxone, a substance used to reverse the deadly affects of opioids. By the time he told first responders she had ingested drugs it was too late for the substance to work. Soon after she was pronounced dead at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin.

Linder was found guilty of drug induced homicide and is set to be sentenced Feb. 24.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-drug-induced-homicide-all-white-jury-met-20170113-story.html

Since being back in the county jail where Linder also is being held, Hillier has been in protective custody. During the trial Hillier said he had been threatened by Linder and another man not to testify.

Hillier told Prather at this week’s sentencing hearing he relapsed on drugs at a time when he was under a lot of pressure knowing he was going to testify against Linder.

He said now that the trial is over that pressure has been lifted.

Prather asked what his plans are and he said that he has a union job waiting for him in Wisconsin.

In asking for a prison term of seven years Assistant State’s Attorney Randi Freese said Hillier’s “repeated selfish … criminal behavior” has carried “tragic and fatal consequences.”

In referring to the night of his girlfriend’s fatal overdose she said Hillier lied to those who could have saved her life.

“He knew he had the chance to do the right thing and he didn’t do it,” Freese said.

Then, just roughly three months into his probation, what she referred to as “the gift of a lifetime” Hillier violates his probation.

Freese asked for a sentence that would send a message to the community.

“He watched his girlfriend take her last breath from a drug he gave her,” she said adding that she does not know what else it will take for Hillier to turn his life around.

“(Hillier) is going to wind up dead or in IDOC,” she said.

In asking for probation so he could get the treatment he needs for his drug addiction, assistant public defender Rick Behof said Hillier “has a good heart” but he “made bad choices.”

“He has a substance abuse problem,” Behof said. “No matter what this court does to him he’s gonna have to address that.”

As his late girlfriend’s father silently looked on in the courtroom, as he has done for most court events for Hillier and Linder, Hillier told the judge he is “sorry for what happened.”

Prather, like the first time she sentenced him, gave Hillier a stern warning.

“I don’t think you are a bad person … I think you are a heroin addict. If you don’t get off the drugs you are gonna have a miserable life. Your consequences will get worse and worse. You will be in and out of IDOC or wind up dead.”

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.

Bully Awareness Month discussed on Bittersweet.com

Bullying is a very important topic. Being aware of bullying can even be a life or death situation, as we have seen all too often in the news.

To anyone who has a child or ever was a child or plans to have children in the future, or works with children in any capacity, please visit me over at Bittersweet and also browse the internet. Lots of good information on recognizing the signs of bullying and what to do to help our children.

http://www.chicagonow.com/bittersweet/2013/10/october-is-bully-awareness-and-prevention-month-get-involved/

Until next time……

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.

Please, comment, share, sign up to follow me!  Until next time ….

Funeral held today for Baby Jeremiah Michael: newborn found dead in Chicago Ridge recycling plant

Dear friends and family:

This is without a doubt the saddest assignment I’ve ever covered. The mother is out there, likely somewhere in the northern suburbs of Illinois or southern Wisconsin. Someone knows who she is. She knows who she is.

There are options for unwanted babies. You have up to 30 days after delivery to safely, legally and anonymously relinquish your unwanted baby to anyone inside a police department, fire house, hospital or a security office on any college campus in Illinois.

Spread the word. You will save a life.  Please read story in Chicago Tribune (link below).

And until next time hold your kids tight, thank God for the all the good in the world and pray for the darkness to be lifted.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-funeral-unidentifed-newborn-chicago-ridge-20130516,0,4008708.story