A former Fox Lake man once imprisoned for his suspected role in the murder of a Johnsburg teen more than 15 years ago has ended his fight with the state to be officially declared innocent.
Mario Casciaro, 34, who now lives in Chicago, spent 22 months in prison – part of a 26-year sentence – handed down in 2013 after being convicted in the murder of 17-year-old Brian Carrick.
The sordid tale rocked the small McHenry County town near the Wisconsin border as well as the Johnsburg grocery store where the two worked at the time.
Authorities have long believed that an altercation inside a produce cooler involving another man, Shane Lamb, led to the presumed murder on Dec. 20, 2002. Carrick’s body has never been found but his blood was found in and around the cooler.
More than a decade, one perjury trial and two murder trials would go by before Casciaro was found guilty of the rarely used charge of first-degree murder by intimidation.
Prosecutors said Casciaro, the suspected ring leader in a local drug business operating out of the grocery store known at the time as Val’s, told Lamb to “talk” to Carrick over a drug dealing debt of about $500.
Lamb, at both murder trials – the first ending in a mistrial – testified that he became angry, punched and knocked out Carrick. As he saw the small-framed boy lying unconscious and bleeding on the cooler floor, Lamb said, Casciaro told him to leave the store and he would take care of the body. Carrick was never seen alive after that night, authorities, witnesses and his family members said.
Lamb – accusing prosecutors of telling him what to say in exchange for total immunity and lesser prison time in an unrelated cocaine charge he was facing a the time – later retracted his testimony. Prosecutors have vehemently denied such accusations and stand by their case even today.
In 2015 an appellate court overturned Casciaro’s conviction. Casciaro’s attorneys have publicly blamed a third man, another co-worker at the grocery store, for Carrick’s murder. But this man died of a drug overdose during the months between the two murder trials. He was never charged with murder in the Carrick case.
Over the last 20 months Casciaro had argued with McHenry County State’s Attorney to grant him a certificate of innocence. This certificate would have resulted in a payment of $20,000 but on Friday Casciaro withdrew his petition.
“Mr. Casciaro believes the appellate court decision … establishes his innocence,” his attorney Kathleen Zellner wrote in a statement.
Citing the already $50,000 settlement the county has paid to Casciaro she added that “The obvious bias against Mr. Casciaro by the Mchenry County State’s Attorney’s Office would result in protracted expensive litigation over at most $20,000 in compensation.”
Zellner explained that with the expectation that Casciaro would have been denied, he would have then had to spend an additional $75,000 in appeals.
Casciaro also has a civil lawsuit of $6 million pending against Johnsburg. Zellner said should Johnsburg not settle and the case goes to trial she will pursue $18 million.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said suddenly dismissing the petition “after nearly a year of proceedings and just prior to the final hearing is disgraceful.
“Casciaro has said a lot of things and pointed a lot of fingers,” Kenneally wrote. “He claimed he is innocent. He claimed prosecutors acted inappropriately. He claimed a witness, who conveniently has since died and can no longer defend himself, is the real culprit. All anyone really needs to know, however, is that on the day prior to the final hearing, when he would have been required to actually “prove” these claims, he tellingly cut bait and dismissed his Petition.”
Casciaro is attending law school in Chicago and working for the city’s public defender’s office.
Carrick was one of 17 children raised in an Irish Catholic family. He was raised in a large white, two story home that set across the street from the grocery store where he was last seen alive. His parents have both died not knowing where there son is.
(If interested in Lamb’s lawsuit please visit me at Bittersweet: http://www.chicagonow.com/bittersweet/2017/09/star-witness-in-infamous-2002-disappearance-and-presumed-murder-of-johnsburg-teen-sues-mchenry-county-authorities-cites-coercion-and-intimidation-to-testify/