UPDATE: Judge allows day passes for mentally-ill man who set woman on fire

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

On Thursday Blankenship’s worst fear came true as Hucksteadt’s request to go out into the community on reintegration day trips was granted.

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.

In 2010, Hucksteadt was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services and confined at the Elgin Mental Health Center.

Last year Hucksteadt was in court asking that he be allowed to go out into the community on these 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 at a hearing last month. Malis 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 authorities initially 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.”

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, takes his medications and attends mental illness and AA meetings. He also successfully completed an off-site substance abuse program last year while escorted by a security guard without incident.

Messer said it is “unnecessary” to require security guards.

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.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs cautioned Judge James Cowlin, now is hearing the case, 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.”

In his written ruling issued Thursday, Cowlin said he would allow the off-site day passes as long as there was at least one plain clothed security guard with him. Cowlin wrote that he believed Hucksteadt has made progress. He said these outings are not seen as rewards but as part his “therapeutic plan” to reincorporate him into the community.

Upon learning of Cowlin’s ruling Thursday, Blankenship said she is “very disappointed… our hearts are broken.”

“This is pretty sad to hear,” she said. “They are using the community as a guinea pig. Hopefully he doesn’t  act out and hurt anybody, (that) no child or anybody sees what he is capable of. … It is difficult to digest. It’s like a free pass if you are insane you get a free pass to commit murder. This is the beginning of him being allowed to reintegrate. I hope they know what they are doing because he is very dangerous.”

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/

Drug Induced Homicide Trial: Dealer, days away from delivering child, found guilty of delivering fatal dose of heroin

Just after 8 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2015 a 20-year-old woman was found blue, unresponsive and slumped over the edge of a bed in the basement of a Marengo home where she lived with her boyfriend and his mother.

“I tried to pull her up, I started screaming,” said Laurie Cool tearfully describing finding her son Brandon Smedley’s girlfriend, who overdosed after shooting a syringe full of heroin into her jugular vein.

Cool gave her emotional testimony Thursday during the drug induced homicide trial of Durelle Hall who sat stoically.

Hall, who still faces additional drug related charges she racked up while out on pre-trial bond, was found guilty Thursday after little more than an hour of jury deliberation. She faces up to 30 years in prison in Kumm’s death when sentenced in September.

During opening arguments this week in McHenry County, Ill., prosecutors said Hall, 26, sold Chelsie Kumm that lethal dose of heroin.

However, Hall’s defense attorneys said the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hall sold Kumm the lethal dose.

Assistant State’s Attorney Randi Freese said Hall, who is days away from delivering a baby, has chosen to make a living as a drug dealer, “selling … poison” and feeding the addiction of addicts.

“You are going to hear about Chelsie Kumm … who had her entire life ahead of her when (Hall) gave her a fatal dose of heroin.” Freese said

Kumm woke up that morning “heroin sick,” Freese said.

Her boyfriend, Smedley boarded a train in Crystal Lake headed to Chicago to buy heroin, but Kumm stayed behind because she said she could get the heroin locally. Smedley never saw her alive again.

Freese said Kumm called a friend to pick her up and she went back to his apartment in Crystal Lake where he gave her $50. Freese said Kumm told the friend the money was so she could buy her “medicine.” The friend gave her the money and 20 minutes later he saw Kumm go outside and make a quick exchange with someone who showed up in a gray vehicle, Freese said.

Kumm then told her friend she had to go home and “prepare” her medicine. The friend told police when he drove her home she went into the basement and never came back upstairs. When he called out to her and she didn’t respond, he left.

Police collected various colored baggies, needles and cooking instruments in the bedroom where Kumm was found. Among the paraphernalia were pink baggies later tested and proved positive for heroin and fentanyl.

Freese said the pink baggies are Hall’s signature drug dealing baggies. Prosecutors showed jurors text messages showing Kumm and Hall set up the drug deal that day. Other texts show Kumm telling Smedley she got heroin from Hall.

“It is very clear who sold (Kumm) the heroin … that killed her,” Freese said.

But defense attorney Vanessa Sheehan told jurors that though the whole story is “very sad” and Kumm and her family have been “ravished” by drugs and addiction -as has Hall’s own family- the state cannot prove it was Hall who sold the fatal dose of heroin to Kumm.

Even if they could prove she sold her heroin that night they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Hall’s drugs that killed her. During the trial jurors saw police photos showing various baggies in the room where Kumm was found, implying the couple bought heroin from other drug dealers.

Sheehan said Kumm’s addiction began at age 15 and when one is addicted “you live solely to feed that addiction.”

She added Kumm and Hall were friends who ran in the same social circles and that Kumm “was living solely to find her next fix. … She connected with a lot of people that day.”

Sheehan said Kumm was asking “everyone she knew to hook her up.”

Authorities found “a cocktail of substances … in Chelsie’s blood,” Sheehan said.

Noting additional drugs in her system, unaccounted periods of time and missing evidence Sheehan said the state “cannot prove who killed her. … There is nothing good coming out of this case.”

Smedley, 33, said he has battled a heroin addiction for 17 years and has been in recovery the past year. He testified that he and Kumm ingested heroin intravenously, several times daily throughout their relationship. They had made a pact in 2014 that they would work together daily to find heroin to use together. He said they could do between three and seven bags of heroin a day.

He said that morning they “ransacked” his mother’s home hoping to find heroin to help Kumm feel better. Later, he got a ride into Crystal Lake where he sold his mother’s Percocet and made $60, but when he could not score enough heroin for him and Kumm locally, he boarded a train to Chicago.

About 40 minutes into the trip he got a text from Kumm saying she had gotten $50 and was waiting to meet with Hall to bring her heroin. Smedley also said he and Kumm often bought heroin from Hall, including once while her young son was present in her car near his school.

He said Hall sold her heroin in pink or purple baggies, then identified the pink baggies in the room where Kumm overdosed in police photos.

When his mother called to tell him his girlfriend overdosed and to come home, Smedley was at Chicago Avenue and Cicero Avenue on Chicago’s westside.  Though he was not charged in her death he said he did not want to return home that night.

“I didn’t want to come home. I didn’t want to live anymore,” Smedley said adding he planned to ingest the heroin he scored and commit suicide. “I didn’t want to go to jail, be drug sick … I lost my lover.”

In closing arguments, Thursday Freese said Kumm had five times the lethal dose of heroin in her system.

She also noted Hall had overdosed herself in 2009 and claims to have last sold heroin around that time.

Freese referred to a police interview, which jurors saw this week, where Hall was crying saying she does not sell heroin and talking about her own overdose and her sister’s drug addiction. But, Freese said, she has no problem selling it “to someone else daughter or sister.”

“Someone who knows the power of that drug and sells it to others is just awful,” Freese said.

About a month after Kumm died police searched Hall’s apartment where they found no heroin but did find crack cocaine and five cell phones that prosecutors said were used for her drug business.

In closings, Sheehan said the state did not prove who had been texting with Kumm that day from phones that belonged to Hall. She sought to cast doubt on witnesses who are known felons and drug addicts including Smedley, who during his second day of testimony appeared to be nodding off just after receiving a methadone treatment.

She also cast doubt on whether Smedley went into the city that day and highlighted the fact that not all drug related items found in the home were tested including two syringes, one found in the basement near where Kumm overdosed that appeared to have water in it.

“That’s reasonable doubt,” Sheehan said.

Hall’s dad Michael, of Lake in the Hills, Ill., said he is “disappointed” with the verdict and doesn’t feel the state had the evidence to convict his daughter. He also expressed sadness for Kumm’s death and her family.

“We are devastated and so worried about the children,” he said of His 6-year old grandson and Hall’s unborn baby.

Michael Hall, whose younger daughter also is a heroin addict currently in recovery, added that the heroin epidemic needs more attention and the county needs to do more for the addicts.

As she walked out of the courtroom, Kumm’s mom, Kristine Hensley of McHenry, Ill., said she was “very pleased” with the verdict though the ordeal has been “very stressful.”

While she said she is not a vindictive person she said she hopes Hall gets a strict sentence though she knows “it’s not gonna bring her back … I just wanted justice.”

Man freed from prison after reversal of murder conviction of Johnsburg Ill. teen suing for “millions”

Mario Casciaro – convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison for the 2002 murder of a Johnsburg Ill. teen and later released – is suing those who brought on his conviction for “millions” of dollars.

After two murder trials, the first ending in a hung jury, Casciaro, 33,
was convicted in 2013 for the murder of 17-year-old Brian Carrick in a mysterious case that has rattled the quiet far northwest town.

The jury found Casciaro guilty of the rarely used charge of murder with intimidation, meaning he set into motion the events that led to Carrick’s death.

Carrick worked as a stock boy at a grocery store across the street from his home on Johnsburg Road. He was a well-liked boy who grew up in a large Irish Catholic family with 13 siblings.

The store, at the time named “Val’s Finer Foods” was partially owned by the Casciaro family. Authorities have long said that Casciaro sold pot from the grocery store and used Carrick as one of his dealers.

During both trials, a third co-worker, Shane Lamb the alleged “muscle” of the operation according to prosecutors, said Casciaro summoned him to the store on the night of Dec. 20 2002 to “talk” to Carrick about a drug dealing debt.

The confrontation turned violent and Lamb testified that he punched Carrick knocking him unconscious on the floor inside a produce cooler. He said Casciaro told him to leave the store and he would take care of the body.

Lamb said he never saw Carrick again.

Carrick’s blood was located in an around the cooler area and on boxes in a dumpster outside the store – but his body has never been found.

Rumors of his disappearance and presumed murder swirled around the small town nestled near the Wisconsin border for nearly a decade before Casciaro’s arrest.

In 2010, while facing a lengthy prison term in an unrelated drug case, Lamb — with a growing rap sheet who gave varying accounts to authorities over the years of what happened to Carrick — was given a deal to testify against Casciaro in exchange for immunity.

But, in a nationalized television program, while in jail facing weapons charges, Lamb recanted the tale he told on the stand twice and accused prosecutors of telling him what to say to convict Casciaro — accusations prosecutors vehemently deny.

About a year later, Casciaro was released from prison after an appellate court ruled that the state’s case was improbable and Lamb’s testimony did not match the physical evidence found at the scene.

The appellate judges also believed Casciaro’s lawyer Kathleen Zellner who asserted there was blood evidence and testimony that the jury never heard that did not match up with Lamb’s story. She claims blood evidence shows Carrick died not by a punch and fall to the cold, concrete floor, but by a knife wound to the neck.

Zellner pointed the finger at another store employee, whose blood also was found in and around the cooler. In earlier police interviews this man was asked why his blood would be found in the cooler and he said he often bit his nails low and he would bleed. This man was never charged with the murder and had died of a drug overdose while staying in a halfway house sometime between the two trials. In 2008, he was charged with concealment in the case but those charges were later dropped.

In the lawsuit, Casciaro is seeking monetary damages from Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs, McHenry County and the entire McHenry County State’s Attorney’s office, as well as Johnsburg Police Chief Keith Von Allmen, the city of Johnsburg and the entire Johnsburg Police Department.

In the lawsuit, Zellner accuses authorities of “deliberately withholding” exculpatory evidence including this other co-workers behavior in the days after Carrick went missing and his alleged absence during his work shift. She wrote that evidence was not shown to jurors that would have shone light on this man as the “actual culprit.”

The lawsuit also accuses Von Allmen of being biased in the investigation because he was friends with this man’s father. The motion further claims interviews were not reported or presented to jurors regarding witnesses where it was supposedly said that this man had “hostility” toward Carrick.

Zellner, who requested a jury trial in the civil matter, also made strong claims that Combs out of his “sheer dislike” of Casciaro “fabricated” and “concocted” the story that jurors heard Lamb testify to. She claims that authorities knew Casciaro was innocent and ignored evidence that could have been presented to jurors to show his innocence.

Zellner claims that Casciaro’s ”unjust conviction” was done “intentionally” and was a violation of his rights resulting in a loss of his freedom, emotional distress, great mental anguish … humiliation, indignities, and embarrassment … natural psychological development … personal contact .. personal fulfillment … .”

The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s office firmly stands by its prosecution of Casciaro and zealously denies any wrongdoing or fabrication of any type.

Prosecutors have argued their case was not based solely on Lamb’s account of what happened that night -as Zellner asserts- but also by testimony of several other witnesses who testified that Casciaro was selling marijuana out of the store and Carrick owed him money. During the trials they identified one man who claimed he saw the two allegedly arguing that night. Prosecutors also stand by one witness who testified that Casciaro allegedly claimed that he can “make people disappear.” They also note to another  witness who testified that Casciaro allegedly told him a similar account of what happened the night Carrick went missing. They further point to Casciaro’s own alleged unaccounted for whereabouts for a period of time that night and his own inconsistent stories and behavior during police interviews as disinterested and arrogant.

Authorities in the case say they are not surprised by the latest motion.

“We knew this was coming,” said McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally who along with Combs prosecuted Casciaro. “This is an opportunistic lawsuit filed on behalf of a defendant convicted of felony murder by a McHenry County jury. The allegations in the lawsuit, while imaginative, are entirely without merit. We are eager for our day in court to prove where the real injustice lies and, once again, the sad truth about what happened to Brian Carrick in 2002.”

Casciaro’s release was held up by the Illinois Supreme Court which denied the state’s objection.

Casciaro, who is currently attending law school, also is seeking a certificate of innocence from the county. In an earlier court hearing Kenneally passionately argued that just because the appellate court ruled there was not sufficient evidence to convict Casciaro “beyond a reasonable doubt” that  is a “far cry from declaring him innocent.”  This matter will be back in court May 11.

Carrick’s parents, William and Terry, both have died not knowing what happened to their son or allowed the opportunity to properly bury or grieve him.

Neither Von Allmen nor Carrick’s family could be reached for comment.

In past statements, a family member of the co-worker on whom Zellner places the blame for Carrick’s death, has strongly defended his innocence. He was not identified by name in this story because he was not charged with murder, never testified in the Casciaro case and has since died.  The relative and the man’s former lawyer have voiced strong opposition and disgust with this man being used as a “scapegoat” in Carrick’s death, and have asked that his name not continue to be tarnished.  The female relative has described this man as a son, brother and father and proclaimed he had nothing to do with Carrick’s murder.

McHenry County lawyer convicted of manufacturing child porn

A Crystal Lake attorney was found guilty this week of manufacturing child pornography involving a 14-year-old girl inside a family changing area at an Algonquin fitness center.

A McHenry County judge ruled that James T. Zeas, 48, of Lake Barrington, recorded video of the girl as she undressed inside a bathroom at LifeTime Fitness Club in Algonquin. His case was heard before Judge Michael Feetterer rather than a jury.

Feetterer read his ruling stating that he had considered all the evidence including the factors present which made the video rise to the level of being lewd. Saying the video did show the young girl “partially nude” revealed her breasts and its recording appeared to be “intended to illicit a sexual response.”

He also noted that Zeas was seen on the video during both attempts to record the girl and seen trying to hide the camera with paper towels and a red hat.

The video appeared to be shot by a “voyeur” as part of “sexually deviant behavior,” Feetterer said.

Zeas, whose bond was immediately revoked, nervously ran his hands through his hair, rubbed and wrinkled his face several times during the judge’s ruling.

In closing arguments held last month Assistant State’s Attorney Kate Lenhard likened Zeas to a “voyeur” and a “peeping tom.”

Lenhard said in the summer of 2009, without the girl’s knowledge, Zeas set up a camera inside the bathroom, left then waited for her to change from her street clothes into a bathing suit. But his first attempt failed as the girl was out of the camera’s view.

Lenhard said that later that day after the girl swam Zeas tried again. She said he is seen on the video adjusting the camera’s angle to capture a larger view, he then covers the camera with a red hat and leaves the bathroom. Shortly after the girl enters and changes from her swimsuit into street clothes. This time she was captured on the video and her breasts were “exposed” to the camera as part of Zeas’ ”covert observation.”

Lenhard said the girl was not posing or aware of the camera. She thought she was alone and private not knowing “the peeping tom is watching.”

“He took the innocence of a child … he manufactured that into a voyeuristic (video) … that he then kept.” Lenhard said.

The images were discovered on Zeas’ laptop in 2011 by his wife who was “horrified” by what she saw, Lenhard said. The woman kicked Zeas out of their Crystal Lake home and filed for divorce. The videos were eventually turned over to authority.

When his then wife asked about the videos Lenhard said Zeas’ response was: “You don’t understand them, It’s not what it seems, I’ll lose my (law) license … he never says ‘I didn’t do it,’ “ Lenhard said.

However, Barry Lewis, Zeas’ defense attorney, argued that when the videos were turned over to authorities in 2015 the couple was in a “contentious” divorce and custody battle.

Lewis charged that Zeas’ ex-wife, who works with mainframes in the banking industry, somehow manufactured the videos herself. He also said that the girl did not look underage in the videos and that the images do not rise to the level of pornography because they are not sexually provocative, not recorded in a sexually suggestive setting and do not show the girl’s lower genitals.

“There is nothing sexually suggestive about the way she was in the video,” he said.

The lawyer also argued that in 2009 iPhones did not have the capability of video recording, however the state has said in previous court proceedings that they never specified what device actually made the recordings.

You “have to believe someone else created this video,” Lewis said.

A representative from LifeTime Fitness said in an email that Zeas’ actions “clearly were not in line with our policies or expectations.”

The company cooperated with the investigation and will remain “vigilant” in enforcing their policies, said Natalie Bushaw, director public relations

There is “no tolerance for unacceptable behaviors or actions,” she wrote.

Zeas is set for sentencing March 29.