JOHNSBURG – Faced with a civil rights lawsuit in a high-profile murder case, Johnsburg officials are staying quiet.
Mario Casciaro’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, filed a lawsuit March 27 seeking money damages from the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, members of the Johnsburg Police Department and the village. Attorneys claim in the lawsuit that McHenry County authorities violated Casciaro’s rights and caused him a loss of freedom, emotional distress, mental anguish and embarrassment during a murder investigation that gained national attention.
“Mario Casciaro was maliciously pursued and harassed by law enforcement for years, then wrongfully accused and charged with murder in connection with the disappearance of Brian Carrick almost a decade after Brian went missing,” the lawsuit said.
None of the defendants in the case has had attorneys file appearances on their behalf as of Monday afternoon. Calls made to Johnsburg Police Chief Keith Von Allmen and Village Administrator Claudett Peters were not returned.
McHenry County jurors found Casciaro guilty of first-degree murder by intimidation in March 2013 after the conclusion of three trials, one for perjury and two for murder, in connection with Johnsburg teenager Brian Carrick’s 2002 disappearance. Carrick last was seen Dec 20, 2002, at the grocery store where he worked, which also was owned by Casciaro’s parents.
Casciaro, now 33, was the only person convicted in the case. He served 22 months in Menard Correctional Facility on his 26-year sentence before the 2nd District Appellate Court overturned his conviction. He was released from prison in September 2015.
A ruling from the 2nd District Appellate Court overturned Casciaro’s conviction because it said evidence was so lacking and improbable that the state failed to prove Casciaro’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Illinois Supreme Court denied the McHenry County state’s attorney’s request in March 2016 to hear an appeal of the lower court’s decision.
“Although (Casciaro’s) conviction has been reversed, he has suffered greatly and will continue to suffer as a result of Defendant’s misconduct. This lawsuit seeks redress for his injuries,” according to the lawsuit filed by Casciaro’s attorneys.
Shane Lamb, Robert Render, Casciaro and Carrick all worked at Val’s Foods. Lamb and others testified that Casciaro was dealing marijuana, and as one of his sellers, Carrick owed Casciaro drug money.
Prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of Lamb, who said he likely threw the punch that killed the 17-year-old. Prosecutors have said Casciaro used Lamb as the “muscle” or a “henchman” to intimidate Carrick into paying the drug debt.
Lamb was given full immunity for his testimony against Casciaro. Lamb testified that after he punched Carrick in the face and Carrick “fell down,” Casciaro told Lamb to leave, which Lamb said he did. Carrick’s body has not been found.
Lamb later recanted the entire story in a signed affidavit and during a national news TV program about the case, where he said prosecutors told him what to say.
The lawsuit contends that after Lamb was arrested in late 2009 on drug charges, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs viewed his arrest as an opportunity to implicate Casciaro in Carrick’s disappearance.
“Defendant Combs interrogated Shane Lamb, concocted a made-up story implicating Lamb and (Casciaro) in Brian’s disappearance, and coerced Lamb into adopting it,” Zellner wrote in the lawsuit.
Attorneys also said that based on Combs’ “sheer dislike of (Casciaro),” he directed law enforcement’s efforts to implicate him.
Prosecutors have vehemently denied such allegations.
Zellner also has argued that there was “overwhelming evidence” proving that Render was the sole perpetrator in Carrick’s death. Render was the only other person who forensically was connected to the crime scene, as his blood was in and around the cooler, the lawsuit said.
Render was charged in 2008 with concealing a homicide, but the charge later was dismissed. He died in 2012.
Attorneys in the lawsuit argued that police “deliberately” withheld evidence related to Render that could have helped Casciaro. They also claim that Johnsburg Police Chief Keith Von Allmen diverted the investigation because he was friends with Render’s father.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally, who helped prosecute Casciaro, said that although the allegations were without merit, the lawsuit itself was not unexpected.
“We knew this was coming,” Kenneally said in a statement. “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.”
Zellner could not be reached for comment about how much money Casciaro was seeking.