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.

Man released from prison after murder conviction of Johnsburg teen, seeks to be declared “innocent”

Mario Casciaro was released from prison after his conviction for the murder of his teenage co-worker was overturned, but authorities in McHenry County are balking at formally declaring him innocent.

Casciaro — the only person ever convicted in the 2002 disappearance of 17-year-old Brian Carrick — wants a McHenry County judge to grant him a certificate of innocence. But the prosecutors who took Casciaro to trial three times before getting a guilty verdict — once for perjury and twice for murder — have formally opposed the certificate.

If granted, the court document would allow Casciaro to seek compensation from the state for the 22 months he spent in Menard Correctional Center before his conviction for murder with intimidation — a rarely used charge — was reversed on appeal. Innocence certificates can also help exonerated former inmates get employment and generally reintegrate into society.

“It is unfortunate that the McHenry (County) state’s attorney continues to deny this grave miscarriage of justice,” said Casciaro’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, who has won several high-profile murder conviction reversals and now represents Steve Avery, the Wisconsin man from the “Making a Murderer” Netflix series. “We are confident Mr. Casciaro will prevail, even if we have to take this matter all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.”

But prosecutors argue that, although the appeals court determined they lacked sufficient evidence to convict Casciaro, that doesn’t mean he is “actually innocent.”

Casciaro “wishes to cast himself as the victim. He is not. The real victim is lying nameless in an unmarked, unhallowed grave,” prosecutors wrote, in reference to the fact that Carrick’s remains have never been recovered. “The defendant’s disinterest, deceit and contempt … during the investigation exposed his callousness and consciousness of guilt.”

Prosecutors further argued in their 300-page motion that, “even conceding that the state’s evidence of guilt was weak, it does not follow that (Casciaro) is innocent. Rather, (he) must still present evidence of actual innocence that overrides evidence of guilt. (Casciaro) offers no exculpatory physical or DNA evidence, no credible alibi during the time of the attack or thereafter, and no new witnesses or information.”

The case has attracted national attention and has become one of the most notorious murder mysteries in McHenry County. Carrick disappeared days before Christmas 2002 after being seen at the Johnsburg grocery store where he worked with Casciaro, whose family was part owner.

Authorities contended at Casciaro’s two murder trials that Carrick had been dealing marijuana for Casciaro and that he ordered another co-worker, Shane Lamb, to confront Carrick about a debt he owed. Lamb testified that- at both murder trials- he delivered a fatal punch to Carrick inside a grocery store cooler. At Casciaro’s second murder trial in 2013,  Casciaro was convicted of first-degree murder with intimidation and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Prosecutors told jurors that if it were not for Casciaro- acting as the “kingpin”of a drug dealing operation and putting into motion the wheels that led to Carrick’s death- Carrick would not have been killed.

Carrick’s blood was found in and around the cooler, but his body has never been found.

Lamb, who received immunity in the case but is now in prison on an unrelated weapons charge, later said he lied on the witness stand under pressure from prosecutors seeking to convict Casciaro of the murder, a claim officials have vehemently denied.

In their objection to Casciaro’s innocence certificate, prosecutors called Casciaro’s conviction reversal “problematic” and “imprudent.” They cited, for example, witness testimony that supported Lamb’s account, as well as a polygraph test Casciaro took that prosecutors say showed Casciaro being deceptive. They also noted letters Lamb wrote to a local newspaper – while in jail on the weapons’ charges- where he wrote he felt remorse for what happened to Carrick.

They cited trial testimony from one witness who said he saw Casciaro and Carrick arguing that night, as well as testimony from various former grocery store employees,  who said  that Casciaro was selling marijuana and that Carrick worked for him. Prosecutors also pointed to testimony that Carrick owed Casciaro money at the time he disappeared and that Lamb worked as an “enforcer” in Casciaro’s drug business.

In overturning the conviction outright last year, the appellate court noted, among several factors, the lack of physical evidence to convict Casciaro. They also questioned Lamb’s credibility and said his account did not prove intimidation by Casciaro. Additionally, they wrote that details of the alleged physical altercation did not match 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.

Prosecutors, however, said Lamb only recanted and claimed he was told what to testify because he was upset about the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence for the weapons charges. They also noted that he had learned he would be featured on a national TV news program about the Carrick case and wanted to “leverage the notoriety and exposure to undercut his prosecution.”

In her appeal, Zellner sought to cast suspicion on another grocery store co-worker, who has since died, as the possible killer. She noted that this man’s blood was found near the crime scene and that he had motive.  Prosecutors called that theory “fantastical” and said it did not match the facts of the case.

After Casciaro’s release from prison in September, prosecutors attempted to have their case heard at the Illinois Supreme Court but were denied.

Carrick’s disappearance and the drawn-out aftermath — nearly eight years went by before Casciaro was charged with the murder — have long been a source of interest and grief in the small town, where both families were well-known. Carrick was one of 14 siblings and his family lived across the street from the grocery store where he was likely killed. His mother, Terry, died months before Casciaro’s arrest. His father, William, saw Casciaro convicted of murdering his son but died before the conviction was overturned.

Prosecutors noted those turns of events in their objection.

“Since Brian’s disappearance … both of his parents have gone to their grave without ever having known their son’s ultimate fate,” they wrote, adding his siblings remain “haunted” by his presumed death.

The filing also noted that the attention given in recent years to wrongful convictions “has aroused a healthy skepticism of convictions reached without” DNA evidence or a firsthand witness account.

“It is important not to attribute injustices elsewhere to circumstances here,” prosecutors wrote. They added that, “If one accepts the criminal justice system is imperfect” and sometimes convicts the wrong person, it follows that the same system sometimes “acquits those who are guilty, in fact.”

Since his release from prison Casciaro, now 33, has pursued admittance to law school and his family has opened up another grocery store in McHenry County.

*I welcome anyone with information/thoughts on this case to contact me.

Fox Lake officer’s murder gives two deputies shot and wounded in the line of duty pause

As the manhunt continues for three male suspects who shot and killed a Fox Lake police officer, McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputies wounded by gunfire in the line of duty less than a year ago, say they are deeply saddened and wish they could help.

Dwight Maness, home recovering and preparing for yet another surgery since being shot and seriously wounded by a Holiday Hills man while making a well-being check at his home in 2014, said he feels “helpless.” He wants to go out and help in the manhunt that has drawn hundreds of officers from various agencies, as was the manhunt for Scott Peters, who shot Maness and his partner Deputy Khalia Satkiewicz on Oct. 16, 2014.

That search went on for more than 12 hours before Peters, now serving 135 years in prison for attempted murder, was apprehended. Maness, though after he was shot and was in the hospital coming in and out of consciousness, said seeing watching the manhunt on TV and seeing the helicopters searching for the three subjects who shot and killed Fox Lake Lt. Charles “Joe” Gliniewicz is like reliving his shooting all over again.

“It’s nerve-wracking that they have not found them yet,” Maness said. “All we can do is hope and pray they (are) taken into custody and someone turns them in.”

Noting his attack by Peters just 11 months ago, Maness said cop shootings are “not only out here, but it’s across the nation.” 
And since Peters was sentenced to prison in April, there have been dozens more across the nation.

“That bothers me a lot,” he said. “The lack of respect that society seems to have on police officers … When I was growing up you had that respect for police officers.”

Though Maness and his wife Sue did not know Gliniwiecz they said their hearts are broken over his death and that they will do what ever they can to help his family. “It’s horrible,” Sue Maness said. “My heart totally goes out to the family. I can’t say I know what she is feeling, but it’s pretty close. Yesterday was a really hard day. We were glued to the TV all day. Everything kind of floods back form last year. It was hard.”

McHenry County deputy Khalia Satkiewicz, who was shot and wounded along with Maness while making that well being call in Holiday Hills, had few words today other than she is “heartbroken” over the officer’s death. “We worked with the department a few times,” she said softly in a phone interview. “I did know who he was and I’m very sad. All I can say is my heart really breaks for his family … prayers to his family.”

Satkiewicz said she has another surgery later this month and plans on returning to work full time soon. While home recovering she said she has been “running the kids here and there … just trying to get myself ready to go back to work.”

Her husband Illinois State Trooper Master Sgt. Robert Satkiewicz said he was part of the search efforts in Fox Lake on Tuesday, and he knew Gliniewicz for about ten years.

“He was a good guy, he’ll be sorely missed,” Satkiewicz said. “It does hit home, this is very close for us … with everything happening with Khalia … put a lot into our thoughts.” He stayed at the Fox Lake search for more than 12 hours yesterday, often reflecting that the scene there must have been what it was like when police were searching for the man who shot his wife less than a year earlier.

He said though his place then was at his wife’s hospital bed, he had the urge to be out searching for Peters. He said his two young children, ages 8 and 13, were happy to see him come home at the end of the day yesterday. And this morning as he left, they told him they hoped he catches “the bad guys.”

“My thoughts and prayers obviously go out to the family,” he said. “I hope we can find the suspects and bring some resolve to it. It’s tough, tough to watch a fellow officer (be killed), someone we knew, the next town over. (It) starts to make you wonder a little bit about whats going on.”

Holiday Hills shooter sentenced to 135 years in prison: Victims and loved ones share their stories

Scott Peters, the Holiday Hills man who shot and wounded two McHenry County deputies as they made a well-being check at his home last October, was sentenced today to 135 years in prison.

During today’s sentencing the eight-year-old son of Deputy Khalia Satkiewicz, one of the wounded officers, described his thoughts at first seeing his mother in the hospital and wanting to give her a hug.

“When I saw her in the bed I felt very sad … I felt mad at the man who shot my mommy,” said Nicholas Satkiewicz as his tears filled the courtroom.

Peters, 52, who was found guilty in April of 15 counts of attempted murder of a peace officer, aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated discharge of a firearm at a peace officer, sat stoic as his sentence was read.

Just after 1 a.m. Oct 16, Peters fired shots from an assault rifle at Satkiewicz and Deputy Dwight Maness thorough a closed front door.

He then opened the door and chased them, still shooting, as they ran for cover in the darkness. He struck and seriously wounded the deputies. He also fired shots at a third deputy, Eric Luna, who was not injured. Peters then led authorities on a 16-hour manhunt before being arrested.

Satkiewicz’s 13-year-old daughter Sierra said seeing her mom wounded and crying for the first time in the hospital was “heartbreaking.”

“My mother didn’t deserve any of this,” she said.

As the children read their statements Peters sat without emotion, however, his wife Lisa, quietly wiped away tears.

Robert Satkiewicz, an Illinois State Police Master Sergeant, described what Peters did that night — hiding behind a door and shooting at officers who went to his home to help his own wife and daughter– as “hurtful, destructive and cowardice.”

“You are lucky I wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be here today,” he told Peters. “You are a domestic terrorist and should be treated as such. … “I pray you never see the light of day outside prison walls again.”

Deputy Khalia Satkiewicz said “Nightmare cannot begin to describe the terror I felt that night.”

“The night turned into an ambush that was meant to kill us … His agenda was clear, he was hellbent on killing us,” she said adding that she saw her children’s faces before her as she ran for cover.

“We should be dead … God was with us that night. “Evil showed itself on Oct. 16 in the form of Scott Peters,” she said. “The physical wounds will heal but the mental and emotional scars will be with me my entire lifetime.”

Maness’ colleague McHenry County Police Sergeant Travis McDonald, read a statement written by Maness who could not attend the sentencing. He suffered new injuries this week to his right leg following a procedure to help repair his left leg and was in the hospital. He has so far undergone 15 surgeries.

Maness wrote that for his whole life, including serving 20 years in the military and as a police officer the last seven, he has been a “warrior” and has “(stood) up for people who cannot stand up for themselves.”

Calling Peters a “coward” and a “sociopath” Maness wrote that Peters “has no honor” and “does not know what it is like to sacrifice.

“It is all about him,” Maness wrote. He added that the injuries sustained in the ambush have caused him to lose “every ounce of dignity” and he credited his wife Sue with caring for him.

The events of that night have caused him to be “shut out form the outside world” and he has suffered greatly physically, mentally and emotionally.

However, he said, the incident had brought the department closer together and that after that day deputies “held their children a little tighter and told their spouses they loved them a little more.”

Despite his injuries, Maness said “I am a warrior and will continue to walk the warrior’s path.”

His wife, Sue Maness, described getting the phone call at 2 a.m. that her husband had been shot.

“I was paralyzed with fear and sick to my stomach,” she said.

“My husband is the epitome of what a soldier, a police officer and a man should be … (you are) coward hiding behind a door. What kind of a man is that?
Before the hearing got underway, the prosecutor played an audio recording of a phone call Peters made to his wife after being found guilty on April 30. On the recording Peters tells his wife that he was found guilty and asks her to find him a new lawyer. He made claims that his attorneys, jail officers and the jury were all against him and that he was not treated fairly. He also accused police officers of taking the front door off and shooting more bullet holes into it, setting him up.

“The whole thing is rigged,” he repeatedly told his wife.

Often referring to one another as “baby and “honey” Peters told his wife he was sorry and that she didn’t have to stay with him.

Before sentencing his public defense attorney Angelo Mourelatos said Peters may suffer some mental health issues including depression, delusions and post traumatic stress disorder. He also said a long prison term could be a hardship on his wife and 13-year-old daughter.

Peters apologized to all the families who were hurt by what he did. He said he has “been stick to my stomach ever since” that night.

“In the end there were families on each side of the door at my house that night,” Peters said. “I pray everyone will recover from it.”

Before handing down, what is essentially a life sentence, Prather told Peters that he had never taken responsibility nor shown any remorse for what he did. She also called his accusations in the phone call to his wife in which he said the officers staged the crime scene by shooting bullets into his front door as “ludicrous.”

Prather said the responsibility of what happened “lays right at your feet.”

“There was no nonsense in this case, no lies, the only lies I heard in this case came from you,” Prather said.