Sentencing continued for musical director convicted of inappropriate behavior with former students: lawyer says client was “popular teacher”

Sentencing for a former Crystal Lake high school musical director found guilty of making unwanted advances on two former female students and providing alcohol to minors, who also were formerly his students, was continued Friday at his attorney’s request.

Justin Hubly, 36, was found guilty last month at the conclusion of a a bench trial before McHenry County judge Robert Wilbrandt. He was convicted of misdemeanor battery involving two separate females who had previously been his students at Crystal Lake Central High School. The judge also found Hubly guilty of providing alcohol to the same females and others at parties in Hubly’s then Crystal Lake home.

On Friday with a courtroom packed with his accusers as well as several ex-students there to support him, his attorney Henry Sugden asked for continuance to allow time for a pre-sentencing investigation, a rare request in a misdemeanor case. Sugden also asked the judge to read 23 support letters that Hubly has received in recent weeks. Sugden said the letters have been coming in from “all over the country” from Hubly’s ex students and former colleagues.

At the time of the offenses for which he was found guilty the individuals were no longer his students, Sugden has argued repeatedly. He said because they were no longer his students school officials, who learned of the encounters and called police, should never have been involved.

Sugden also said that it was the students who initiated contact with Hubly, “a popular teacher,” and often brought their own alcohol to his home.

During the trial the two women at the center of the battery charges each testified that they had graduated high school in 2014. On separate occasions in 2016 while home on breaks from college they each had gone to his home. Each female said Hubly gave them tequila and other alcoholic drinks and made unwanted advances toward them.

Outside the courtroom on Friday parents of the accusers, who once loved and supported Hubly, said they were “furious” that Hubly was allowed an extension on his sentencing.

Wilbrandt wrote that “…crossed the sometimes blurry line between being a friendly mentor and becoming and active participant in his es-students socially questionably activities.”

Prosecutors have said he faces a sentence from probation up to one year in jail.
Sentencing has been rescheduled for 1:30 July 6.

Mentally ill man who set woman on fire in 2004 asking judge to allow him day trips

Leslie Blankenship thought her mother’s murderer would be put away in the state’s custody until 2099 only to find herself agonizing through numerous fitness hearings quietly looking on as he attempts to get more privileges and freedoms.

In 2004, Lawrence Hucksteadt doused 69-year-old Ellen Polivka with gasoline and set her on fire as she sat at her receptionist desk at the Centegra Behavioral Health center in Woodstock. She died weeks later.

Six years later, Hucksteadt was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services. He has since been confined to the Elgin Mental Health Center.

Blankenship said over the years she has sat through more than a dozen hearings as her mother’s killer attempts to get more freedoms, all part of th process to eventually re-acclimate back into society.

Last year Hucksteadt was in court asking that he be allowed to go out into the community on supervised group “reintegration trips.” The excursions that last about four hours and occur three times a year typically include eight patients and three therapy aides. The group takes a bus from the facility and visits Elgin’s Gail Borden library, the recreation center and they have lunch in a local restaurant.

The purpose of these “highly structured” day trips is to reintroduce the patients, without cuffs or waist chains, to living among the community in order to, at some point, place them in housing outside the facility, explained Dr. Richard Malis who treats Hucksteadt at the facility.

He currently is clinically and behaviorally stable, allowed unsupervised passes between buildings on the property, and has had no violations, Malis said.

Last year, McHenry County judge Michael Feetterer ruled that he would only grant the off-site request if Hucksteadt were escorted by two security guards.

But at a hearing held in McHenry County courthouse last month, authorities said due to staffing and the concern that uniformed guards would alter the nature of the trips, Hucksteadt has not been allowed on the day trips.

Malis said the presence of a uniformed security guard on those tips would be “detrimental” to the other patients and “counterproductive” to the purpose of the outings.

Assistant Public Defender Kim Messer described Hucksteadt as a “leader” within the facility and argued that he has been compliant with all his treatments, has had no altercations, properly takes his medications and attends mental illness and AA meetings. He also successfully completed an off-site substance abuse program last year at the Renz Addiction Center while escorted by a security guard without incident.

Messer said it is “unnecessary” to require security guards. She said no other patient has required such an escort.

Hucksteadt has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, has experienced psychosis, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions, Malis has testified.

However, Malis and the facility’s chief of security William Epperson each testified that Hucksteadt is compliant with his treatment, has not had any violent outbursts in recent years and is not a threat to the community.

At the hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs cautioned Judge James Cowlin, (currently hearing the case since Feetterer has been assigned to another courtroom)to be careful in his ruling noting the horrific crime Hucksteadt committed. “This is your name going on this …,” Combs told Cowlin.

Combs said asking for un-uniformed security guards is “not unreasonable” to protect the community.

Cowlin asked Epperson if it would be possible to provide one or two plain clothed security guards to which Epperson said “I could make it work.”

But this did little to ease Blankenship’s anguish. She said she is “drained” by the never-ending court hearings. She believed that once he was committed she would not have to ever worry about him being among the public.

Outside the courtroom Blankenship wept as she said she feared him being near small children or families. She also fears for her own safety if he ever is released.

“It’s not right,” she said adding that he is mentally ill and that it is not a curable disease. “This is just the first step to integrating him into society. He is very unstable. He’s a murderer.”

Cowlin could rule March 22.

At murder trial defendant claiming insanity says he heard voices and “smoked pot with God”

A 29-year-old man was hearing voices that someone was going to kill him the day he strangled and stabbed his 53-year-old roommate in their Woodstock apartment, according to recent testimony in a McHenry County courtroom.

Expert witnesses testified in the beginning of a bench trial for Branden Napolitan accused of killing Daryl K. Fox Oct. 23, 2015.

Napolitan’s lawyers argued that he is not guilty by reason of insanity while prosecutors counter he is guilty but mentally insane, meaning he knew the criminality of his actions.

Defense attorneys called to the stand Robert Meyers, a clinical psychologist, who said Napolitan was having a “psychotic break” at the time of the murder, hearing voices and experiencing hallucinations.

“He knew killing … was wrong but in his mind he was acting in self defense,” Meyers said.

Meyers said Napolitan called 911 and told responders he is schizophrenic, was hearing voices and he was scared. Napolitan, who admitted to some cocaine use, was taken to a local hospital where he was evaluated, but released. He then walked home and killed Daryl K. Fox, attorneys said.

After killing him, Napolitan stole Fox’s wallet, cellphone, charger and his car and fled to Madison Wis. where he was later apprehended.

Meyers said Napolitan, who was “quite psychotic and confused” at the time of the murder, is a paranoid schizophrenic. He said there is “no way he’s faking” his illness.

He testified Napolitan has been mentally ill since about 18 years old. He has been in inpatient care multiple times since 2007. Napolitan told Meyers he hears threatening voices, and others that guide him such as Adam.

He also said Satan talks to him and is “dragging him to his destiny to be in hell.”

Napolitan also reported having hallucinations of smoking pot with God and seeing God and other shadows in the clouds.

When arrested Napolitan was agitated and showing “dramatic mood swings” and making “bizarre comments,” the doctor said.

Terrance Lichtenwald, psychologist for the prosecution, disputes Meyers’ assessment. He didn’t believe Napolitan was hearing voices or suffering a psychotic break. He believes he is a paranoid schizophrenic, but said mental illness does not make one a killer.

“Spontaneous, random assaults are uncommon,” Lichtenwald said. “He did appreciate the criminality of his actions.”

The doctor said Napolitan took substantial steps to cover up the murder including closing the blinds in the apartment to conceal the body before he fled. He also continued to answer Fox’s phone as if everything was OK, saying a Fox could not come to the phone.

Regarding his many hospital stays the doctor said Napolitan had a pattern of admitting himself when he was broke and homeless.

The bench trial will continue March 9.

Man withdraws petition to be formally declared innocent by his prosecutors in infamous 2002 Johnsburg murder of teen — still seeks millions

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/

McHenry Il. man will serve out 16 years for “brutal” machete attack: judge rules he is not allowed to withdraw guilty plea

A McHenry County Il. judge denied a lawyer’s motion Friday asking to allow the withdraw of a guilty plea for a man currently serving 16 years in prison for his part in a “brutal” machete attack in 2011.

The response comes about a month after  a new lawyer for Armando Ferral-Mujica argued that the only reason his client pled guilty about three years ago to his part in the attack was because he was told after a conference between his lawyer and the judge he’d be sentenced to between eight and 12 years in prison.

Following the ruling, Ferral-Mujica’s attorney Henry Sugden said  he was “disappointed.” He said the denial of the motion takes from the purpose of a pre-trial conference.

Ferral-Mujica lived in McHenry at the time he and his brother Orlando Ferral-Mujica admitted they attacked Jesus Agaton, shooting him in the chest and “mutilating” him on the neck and head with a machete.

Agaton was attacked by the brothers at a McHenry apartment building. Authorities said Armando shot the victim, and Orlando “mutilated” him with a machete.

An attorney for Orlando Ferral-Mujica said in 2014 the attack stemmed from a family feud that started in their native Mexico. The victim and the brothers are distant cousins, the lawyer said.

Nearly three years into his prison sentence, Armando Ferral-Mujica was back in court with Sugden on a post-conviction petition.

Sugden requested the sentence be reduced or his guilty plea be withdrawn and a trial date be set.

Sugden argued that when Ferral-Mujica pleaded guilty in December of 2012 he did so only because he was told by his defense attorney Dan Hofmann – after a conference with Judge Gordon Graham and Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally – he’d be sentenced to between 8 and 12 years.

But a few months later, the now retired Graham sentenced him to 16.

With an interpreter at his side, Ferral-Mujica took the stand Wednesday and said he would not have pleaded guilty had he known the judge was going to sentence him to 16 years. He said he knew immediately as sheriff’s deputies took him out of the courtroom that he got more years than he was initially told.

Shortly after Hofmann filed for a post-conviction petition.

Sugden argued that Ferral-Mujica,was confused at the time of his initial sentencing. Had he known he would receive more than 12 years, “he never would have pleaded guilty to a blind plea.”

Hofmann took the stand Wednesday and said after leaving the conference it was his “perception” that Graham would sentence him between 8 and 12.

Kenneally also took the stand Wednesday and said he would have never agreed to such a sentencing range.

Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Zalud countered the defense saying there is no proof Ferral-Mujica didn’t understand his plea deal at the time nor does he not understand what is happening in court now.

At his 2013 sentencing “he had proper admonition, he had an interpreter.”

He said that in exchange for his guilty plea to aggravate battery with a fire arm, numerous more serious charges were dropped including two counts of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a machete.

In light of the lengthy sentence he could have received – up to 30 years in prison- 16 years for such a “brutal crime” is “more than reasonable, if not light.”

To which Sugden quickly responded “It’s not a good deal if he’d gone to trial and been found not guilty.”

Zalud said the facts of the crime have not changed and there is no “legal basis to grant a withdrawal or reduction.”

Months after Ferral-Mujica’s sentencing, his older brother Orlando Ferral-Mujica pleaded guilty to a blind plea. He was sentenced by Judge Sharon Prather to 16 years in prison.