WOODSTOCK – A handful of attorneys have joined the fray amid a disagreement about who should foot the bill for defending a prosecutor accused of wrongdoing in a high-profile McHenry County murder case that collapsed last year.
Mario Casciaro, 33, filed a federal lawsuit in March seeking money damages from McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs, the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, Johnsburg Police Chief Keith Von Allmen and the village of Johnsburg.
He claims authorities violated his rights when they investigated and later prosecuted him for the killing of Johnsburg teen Brian Carrick.
McHenry County’s insurance company has hired its own lawyers and plans to argue that Combs is a state employee rather than a county employee and should be defended by the state, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said. In April, Terry Ekl, Patrick Provenzale and Tracy Stanker of Ekl, Williams & Provenzale LLC filed appearances in the federal lawsuit to represent the county. They have since withdrawn. Last week, William “Bill” Kurnik and Alexandra Shenoo of Knight, Hoppe, Kurnik & Knight Ltd. filed appearances to represent the county.
“The county isn’t liable for the acts of an assistant state’s attorney,” Kurnik said. “Assistant state’s attorneys are state employees.”
If a judge agrees, the county could be dismissed from the lawsuit and wouldn’t have to pay for Combs’ defense, Kurnik said.
Dominick Lanzito of Peterson, Johnson & Murray also filed an appearance on behalf of the village of Johnsburg and Von Allmen. Lanzito joins K. Austin Zimmer and Cynthia Grandfield of Berwyn-based Del Galdo Law Group LLC, who filed appearances to represent the village and Von Allmen in April.
Lanzito couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Village Administrator Claudett Peters didn’t return a phone call seeking comment regarding Lanzito. Johnsburg Village President Edwin Hettermann previously has said any legal costs would be paid for by the insurance company, not the village’s general fund.
A jury convicted Casciaro in 2013, and a judge sentenced him to 26 years in prison. He spent 22 months in Menard Correctional Facility before the 2nd District Appellate Court overturned the conviction. Casciaro was released from prison in September 2015.
In the lawsuit, Casciaro claims police deliberately withheld evidence related to another suspect that could have helped Casciaro. He claims that Von Allmen diverted the investigation because he was friends with the father of another suspect. He also claims that Combs directed the police efforts to implicate him out of “sheer dislike of [Casciaro].”
“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 claims.
Carrick last was seen Dec 20, 2002, at the grocery store where he worked. The store was owned by Casciaro’s parents.