With Johnsburg murder conviction reversed, Mario Casciaro wants certificate of innocence

Shaw Media file photo Mario Casciaro (left) with his father, Jerry, speak with Northwest Herald reporter Hannah Prokop at his attorney's office in Downers Grove Thursday, September 24, 2015. Casciaro was released from Menard Correctional Center on Wednesday after Illinois' 2nd District Appellate Court overturned his conviction this month, saying prosecutors failed to prove Casciaro's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. (Sarah Nader)

WOODSTOCK – Although Mario Casciaro’s conviction was overturned in 2015, prosecutors still don’t think he’s innocent.

On Friday, nearly 18 months after Casciaro was released from prison when his conviction for the 2002 murder of Johnsburg teenager Brian Carrick was overturned, attorneys argued over his claims.

McHenry County jurors found Casciaro guilty of first-degree murder by intimidation in March 2013 after the conclusion of three trials, one for perjury and two for murder, in connection with Carrick’s 2002 disappearance. Carrick was last seen Dec 20, 2002, at the grocery store where he worked, which also was owned by Casciaro’s parents.

Casciaro, now 33, was the only person ever convicted in the high-profile murder case that garnered national attention and stumped detectives. He served 22 months in Menard Correctional Facility on his 26-year sentence before the 2nd District Appellate Court overturned his conviction. He was released from prison in September 2015.

A ruling from the 2nd District Appellate Court overturned Casciaro’s conviction because it said evidence was so lacking and improbable that the state failed to prove Casciaro’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Illinois Supreme Court denied the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s request in March 2016 to hear an appeal of the lower court’s decision.

Casciaro’s attorneys are seeking a certificate of innocence, a document that would allow Casciaro to seek money damages from the state for the time he served in prison.

One of Casciaro’s attorneys, Doug Johnson, argued Friday that prosecutors had no physical evidence to connect Casciaro to the crime and suggested other reasons for the prosecution. Casciaro was not at the hearing.

“There’s as much evidence against Mario Casciaro as there is against me,” Johnson said, referencing statements from the Appellate Court decision.

Shane Lamb, Casciaro and Carrick all worked at Val’s Foods. Lamb and others testified that Casciaro was dealing marijuana, and as one of his sellers, Carrick owed Casciaro drug money.

In their petition, the defense pointed to the affidavit that was written by Lamb after trial, alleging that he provided false testimony because prosecutors told him to do so.

Prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of Lamb, the man who said he likely threw the punch that killed the 17-year-old. Prosecutors have said Casciaro used Lamb as the “muscle” or a “henchman” to intimidate Carrick into paying the drug debt.

Lamb was given full immunity for his testimony against Casciaro. Lamb testified that after he punched Carrick in the face and Carrick “fell down,” Casciaro told him to leave, which Lamb said he did. Carrick’s body has not been found.

Lamb later recanted the entire story in a signed affidavit and during a national news TV program about the case. Former State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi and lead prosecutor on the case, Michael Combs, have vehemently denied the allegation regarding Lamb’s testimony.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally argued that although the appellate court determined the state’s evidence at trial was “insufficient to prove (Casciaro) guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” that doesn’t mean he is “actually innocent.”

“A finding of not guilty is not the legal equivalent of innocent, even when a ruling court has determined ‘that no rational jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the state proved all elements of the crimes charged,’ ” Kenneally said in the state’s objection to the defense’s argument for a certificate of innocence.

Kenneally also argued that the evidence as a whole weighs in favor of guilt and the court should be cautious in relying on the appellate court’s opinion when making a determination on actual innocence.

“The defendant wishes to recast himself as the victim. He is not. The real victim is lying nameless in an unmarked, unhallowed grave. The defendant’s disinterest, deceit and contempt manifested during the investigation of a child’s disappearance from his family’s own store exposed his callousness and consciousness of guilty,” Kenneally said in his objection to the defense’s petition. “His evident involvement in that child’s demise and current pretensions of innocence, exposes his treachery.”

Kenneally told the court to not “take anyone’s word for it” and instead look at the evidence in the case when making a decision.

Judge Sharon Prather didn’t make a decision Friday on the certificate of innocence. Attorneys will appear in court May 11 after both sides have had a chance to file motions on what evidence they think should be considered in the judge’s decision.

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