Mario Casciaro, the only person imprisoned in connection with the haunting 2002 disappearance and presumed death of a 17-year-old Johnsburg resident — who eventually walked free — is asking a McHenry County judge to officially acceede to his innocence.
Today Casciaro is a free man about to pursue a law degree, and is seeking to have the presiding judge in his conviction, McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather, issue a “Certificate of Innocence.”
The move – essentially asking the trial judge to agree with the ruling of the appellate judges who exonerated Casciaro last year – is a step toward Casciaro seeking compensation from the state for the 22 months he spent inside Menard Correctional Center in Chester Ill. as an innocent man, his attorney Kathleen Zellner said.
Zellner won Casciaro’s freedom last year after arguing details of his conviction in the infamous cold case mystery of missing teen Brian Carrick at the 2nd District Appellate Court in Elgin. On Wednesday, Casciaro’s 33 birthday, she filed the petition in the McHenry County Clerk’s office.
In court Wednesday McHenry County State’s Attorney Michael Combs asked Prather for time to review and respond to the petition. The matter is up next June 29. Outside the courtroom Combs declined to comment.
Prosecutors have stood by their case against Casciaro that he is guilty of first-degree murder with intimidation because he set into motion the events that led to the death of Carrick inside a grocery store cooler on Dec. 20, 2002.
Casciaro, whose family were part owners of what was Val’s Finer Foods in Johnsburg, faced two juries. The first in 2012 ended in a mistrial and the second a year later resulted in his conviction.
Casciaro, who has long maintained his innocence, was sentenced to 26 years in prison. The state’s case relied heavily on the words of another man, Shane Lamb, who said at Casciaro’s instruction he confronted Carrick on a drug dealing debt owed to Casciaro.
Lamb, currently in prison on unrelated weapons charges who received full immunity in the Carrick case in exchange for his testimony, testified that he argued with Carrick inside a produce cooler.
He detailed for jurors in both trials that he became angry and punched Carrick out cold. He told jurors as Carrick laid bleeding and unconscious Casciaro told him to leave and he’d handle the body.
At the time all three men worked at the grocery store.
Carrick’s blood was found in and around the cooler but his body has never been recovered.
In overturning the conviction outright, the appellate court noted, among several factors, the lack of physical evidence to convict Casciaro. They also said that Lamb’s details of the crime did not show there was any intimidation by Casciaro nor did his tale, if at all true, line up with blood spatter found in and around the produce cooler.
“Lamb’s entire testimony was so inconsistent, contradictory and incredible that it was palpably contrary to the verdict,” appellate judges wrote in their ruling.
The judge’s also noted Lamb later said he made up the story at the instruction of McHenry County State’s Attorneys seeking to convict Casciaro. Combs has vehemently denied this accusation.
Zellner has pointed to another man as being responsible for Carrick’s death. But this man was never brought to trial and died of a heroin overdose between Casciaro’s two trials.
After Casciaro’s release from prison in last year, prosecutors said they stood by their case. They attempted to have their case heard at the Illinois Supreme Court. They were denied in March.
Motioning the court to issue the certificate of innocence is a state law sought in cases where a person is exonerated and there is an outright reversal, Zellner explained.
“It is state law. Many of these have been granted to those (wrongfully convicted) who have been released,” Zellner said. “The statute provides that if you have an outright reversal, which is what we have that we can apply for this … I believe that this will be granted.”
After this certificate of innocence is granted, Zellner can move forward with filing a petition with the Illinois Court of Claims for compensation owed to Casciaro for the time he was “wrongfully incarcerated,” she said.
Should the trial court deny the petition Zellner said she would take it to the appellate court.
Carrick was one of 14 children from a strong Irish Catholic family who grew up in the large white farmhouse across the street from the grocery store. Both of his parents, Terry and William, have died without fully knowing what happened to their son. Neither ever turned vengeful in their quest for answers. Over the years, each expressed just wanting to know the truth so they could forgive and move on.