By Amanda Marrazzo
Trials and Arbitration Homicide
Defense attorney: No proof that convicted murderer ordered friend to kill Johnsburg teen in 2002.
A lawyer for Mario Casciaro, who is serving a 26-year prison term for the disappearance and presumed murder of a Johnsburg teenager, argued in front of appeals judges Monday that prosecutors did not prove their case when a jury convicted him of murder in 2013.
Casciaro was found guilty of the seldom-used charge of first-degree murder with intimidation in the presumed death of 17-year-old Brian Carrick. Prosecutors argued that Casciaro was responsible because he had ordered his associate, Shane Lamb, to confront Carrick in a chain of events that ended with the teen’s disappearance. His body has never been found.
But Casciaro’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, argued before 2nd District Appellate Court judges in Elgin Monday that the state failed to prove Casciaro ordered Lamb to intimidate Carrick over a $500 pot-dealing debt that Carrick owed Casciaro.
Lamb had testified during Casciaro’s two murder trials — the first ended in a hung jury in 2012 — that he was the “muscle” of Casciaro’s marijuana-dealing operation that he ran out of the Johnsburg’s grocery store where Casciaro, Carrick and Lamb worked.
Lamb said that when he met Carrick inside the store’s produce cooler on Dec. 20, 2002, they argued and things quickly escalated. Lamb said he saw Carrick fall to the ground unconscious after he punched Carrick and then, at Casciaro’s direction, Lamb left the store and never saw Carrick again.
Lamb received immunity in the case to testify against Casciaro but has since pleaded guilty in an unrelated weapons case and is serving a 20-year prison term.
Zellner, who has long questioned the validity of Lamb’s testimony, said that even if the state’s scenario is true, there was no evidence that Casciaro committed the crime of intimidation by only directing Lamb to “talk” to Carrick.
She argued before the appeals judges that Carrick and Lamb had a friendly relationship and that Carrick would not have been intimidated by Lamb.
“This crime did not occur the way the state presented it,” Zellner said.
She said a blood spatter expert determined the murder took place in the back hallway of the store, not inside the cooler. She also contended that Casciaro had an “air-tight” alibi that night: He was in the break room and not near the crime scene.
Zellner also pointed to another former co-worker, who has since died, as the possible killer.
“The evidence was insufficient to establish intimidation,” Zellner said adding that a conviction based on that rare charge has never been successfully used in another Illinois case.
Appellate Prosecutor David Bernhard disputed Zellner’s notion that Casciaro’s alibi was air-tight. Bernhard noted that about 10 years lapsed between Carrick’s disappearance and Casciaro’s first trial. Any memories of that evening would have been “general,” Bernard said.
Bernhard said it is plausible that Carrick knew Lamb was being used that night as an instrument of intimidation.
“Clearly he would have been scared if someone with the size and reputation of Lamb came in,” Bernhard said. “(Carrick) had already been talked to by (Casciaro). … He was a very small person.”
The panel of judges questioned whether words alone are enough to rise to the level of intimidation, and whether Casciaro could be held responsible for Lamb punching Carrick. Bernhard stressed that Lamb was only present that night because Casciaro told him to come to the store to collect the money.
“It’s clear the jury made the reasonable inference that this would scare the victim, and there was a reason he should (have been) scared,” Bernhard said.
Bernhard dismissed the defense attorney’s theory that Carrick was killed in a back hallway, not in the cooler. Bernhard said blood could have spattered in the hallway during a hasty cleanup.
Lamb has since recanted his testimony against Casciaro, saying he lied on the witness stand because McHenry County prosecutors told him what to say. County officials have strongly denied that claim.
The appeals court is expected to rule in the coming weeks or months.
Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune