A man convicted in one of McHenry County's most notorious murders appealed his case Monday, arguing that prosecutors didn't have enough evidence to support the charge of felony murder by intimidation and that Johnsburg teen Brian Carrick was killed in a grocery store hallway, not a produce cooler, in December 2002.
Mario Casciaro, 32, formerly of Fox Lake, was convicted of murdering Carrick, 17, in a second trial in April 2013 after the first one ended in a mistrial.
An attorney for Casciaro, who is serving a 26-year prison sentence, argued several points before a three-judge appellate panel in Elgin. Carrick was last seen on Dec. 20, 2002, at a Johnsburg grocery store. His body has not been found.
Kathleen Zellner argued that prosecutors had no proof that Casciaro contacted Shane Lamb to help collect a drug debt Carrick owed to Casciaro.
Lamb was granted complete immunity by prosecutors and testified against Casciaro in both trials, saying Casciaro wanted Lamb to "talk" to Carrick about the drug debt and that Lamb lost his temper with Carrick in a produce cooler and punched him. Carrick, who was much smaller than Lamb and had a heart condition, fell backward onto the cement floor. Casciaro then told Lamb to leave, according to trial testimony.
"There's a total lack of evidence there was any intimidation," Zellner said, adding there were no phone records of Casciaro calling Lamb. "Brian Carrick was a friend of Shane Lamb's. They worked together every day."
Lamb, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for a gun safe theft, has since recanted his testimony.
David Bernhard, an attorney with the Illinois appellate prosecutor's office, argued that McHenry County prosecutors proved Casciaro was accountable for Carrick's death.
Bernard said Lamb, who at the time already had a long record of violent juvenile offenses, was the muscle for other drug dealers in the area. Bernhard added that witnesses testified they saw Lamb and Carrick arguing before Lamb shoved Carrick into the produce cooler. Casciaro's intent, they said, was to have Lamb scare Carrick into paying money he owed Casciaro.
"We're looking for the intent. That's the defendant's intent," Bernhard said. "Clearly (Carrick) would have been scared when someone the size and stature of Lamb's came in there. We don't have to have speech. Actions can produce intimidation also. ... It's clear that the jury made (a) reasonable inference that would scare the victim."
Zellner said Casciaro had an alibi that he was in a store's break room at the time when Carrick was last seen that night. Zellner also pointed to blood stains from another grocery store employee in the cooler and said Carrick was killed in a hallway, based on blood spatter stains that were found there.
"The evidence in this case that the state presented is directly contradicted by their own witnesses," Zellner said. "That doesn't mean this court should affirm a case that is built on a house of cards."
The appellate panel said it would take the matter under advisement and did not offer a time frame as to when it will render its opinion.
Casciaro has maintained his innocence, and his family has offered a $25,000 reward on mariocasciaro.com.