More than three years after 20-year-old Melissa Lech of Joliet died in a hit-and-run crash, David H. McCarthy IV showed up unannounced at the home of Lech's sister to make a startling confession.
The Naperville man said he was the person driving the vehicle that struck and killed Lech in 2008 as she walked home from a sports bar.
Now Will County prosecutors say the confession McCarthy made in February 2012 was a lie. On Thursday, they were forced to drop the criminal case against McCarthy and release him from jail.
"This case cannot move forward against this defendant as it stands now," Will County State's Attorney spokesman Charles Pelkie said. "We cannot meet our burden of proof with the evidence that we have right now."
Two separate psychological evaluations -- one done for prosecutors and the other for defense attorneys -- indicated McCarthy is mentally ill and suffers from bipolar disorder and delusional disorder. The psychologists who prepared the reports both concluded McCarthy made up the story and his confession was false.
Pelkie said those findings were supported by physical evidence, specifically a paint chip taken from the victim.
"There was a forensic analysis of that actual paint chip," Pelkie said. "Compared against a paint chip of the defendant's actual car -- once it was located -- it turned out that paint chip did not come from the defendant's car."
Weighing the psychological reports against the physical evidence from the scene, the state's attorney's office "was left with no choice at this point" but to dismiss the charges, Pelkie said.
Melissa Lech was killed about 12:20 a.m. Aug. 7, 2008, as she walked on McDonough Street in Joliet. She was going home from a sports bar after attending a White Sox game with friends.
McCarthy was taken into custody on Feb. 26, 2012, the same day he visited the home of Lech's sister, Michelle.
McCarthy told Michelle Lech that he was behind the wheel of the vehicle that struck and killed Melissa.
He left after about 10 minutes and didn't identify himself. But Michelle Lech and her husband were able to give police a physical description of both McCarthy and his car and a partial license plate number. Police arrested McCarthy soon after at his Naperville home.
Pelkie said McCarthy was expected to be released from jail on Thursday afternoon.
When reached by phone, Lech's mother declined to talk about what happened in court. Prosecutors are aware the family is upset by the decision to drop the charges against McCarthy.
Pelkie said the state's attorney's office explained to the Lech family why the case against McCarthy couldn't be proven. Still, he said, prosecutors are sympathetic to what the grieving family is going through.
"Mr. McCarthy put a lot of things in motion when he met with the Lech family," Pelkie said. "This is a difficult process, and we understand."
But dropping the charges was the only option prosecutors had, Pelkie said. "It's the right thing to do," he said.
In the meantime, authorities are asking anyone with information about the 2008 hit-and-run accident to contact the Joliet Police Department.
"It's an open investigation," Pelkie said.