Crime & Courts

Special prosecutor will handle Mario Casciaro's certificate of innocence

Mario Casciaro is seeking millions of dollars in damages from the McHenry County state's attorney's office, the Johnsburg Police Department and the village in a wrongful prosecution lawsuit filed in April 2017.
Mario Casciaro is seeking millions of dollars in damages from the McHenry County state's attorney's office, the Johnsburg Police Department and the village in a wrongful prosecution lawsuit filed in April 2017.

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office will no longer have a say in whether Mario Casciaro will be formally declared innocent of the first-degree murder of Johnsburg teenager Brian Carrick.

McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather granted a motion filed by State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally last week requesting a special prosecutor from the Illinois Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor’s office to handle Casciaro’s certificate of innocence petition.

Kenneally said his office’s opposition to Casciaro’s petition could be a conflict of interest or “could create the appearance of an impropriety” given that a civil lawsuit was filed by Casciaro in March against the state’s attorney’s office.

Kenneally also said he already spoke with the Illinois Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor, and it agreed to take the case. The case will next be in court June 15.

The lawsuit, filed by Casciaro’s lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, on March 27, seeks money damages from the 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.

Prosecutors previously argued during a March hearing that although the appellate court determined the state’s evidence at trial was “insufficient to prove (Casciaro) guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” that doesn’t mean he is “actually innocent.”

Casciaro’s attorneys have said that prosecutors had no physical evidence to connect Casciaro to the crime and suggested other reasons for the prosecution.

This comes nearly 18 months after Casciaro was released from prison after his conviction for the 2002 murder of Carrick was overturned.

The ruling 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.

It took three trials, one for perjury and two for murder, to convict Casciaro in March 2013 of first-degree murder by intimidation in connection with Carrick’s 2002 disappearance. Carrick was last seen Dec. 20, 2002, at the grocery store where he worked. The store also was owned by Casciaro’s parents.

Casciaro, now 33, was the only person convicted in the case. He served 22 months of his 26-year sentence in Menard Correctional Facility before the 2nd District Appellate Court overturned his conviction. He was released from prison in September 2015.

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 state’s attorney’s office has vehemently denied those allegations.

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