Man freed in Johnsburg murder ends 'innocence' push
A man freed after being imprisoned for the 2002 murder of a Johnsburg teen has halted his fight for a Certificate of Innocence and will instead focus on a $6 million federal lawsuit against police.
Lawyers for Mario A. Casciaro, 34, of Fox Lake, Friday withdrew their petition for the certificate from McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather, who presided over both trials in the murder of Brian Carrick, 17. Casciaro's first murder trial ended with a hung jury in February 2012; jurors convicted him in a second trial in April 2013.
Casciaro was sentenced to 26 years in prison in November 2013; in September 2015, an appellate court overturned his conviction and ordered him released.
"That's how bad they thought the prosecution of Mario Casciaro was. He didn't have a new trial, he walked out the door," said Casciaro's lawyer, Kathleen Zellner. "We know there's never going to be an unbiased decision out of McHenry County courts. The whole focus is on the civil rights case."
Zellner said even if Prather denied the motion for the certificate, an appellate court would probably overturn it, but that process could take years.
"They can't accept that they made a mistake," Zellner said, adding even if her client received the certificate it would not be used as evidence in the federal lawsuit. "Mario's record is clean. He is in law school. (The certificate) is not necessary."
Casciaro was first charged in 2010 with Carrick's murder. In both trials, prosecutors argued Carrick owed Casciaro money for selling marijuana.
According to court testimony, Casciaro asked an enforcer named Shane Lamb to scare Carrick into paying. All three went into a walk-in cooler at Casciaro's parents' grocery store in December 2002 and Lamb lost his temper and punched Carrick, who was much smaller and had a heart condition. Carrick fell straight back onto the concrete floor and Casciaro told Lamb to leave, according to trial testimony from Lamb, who was granted immunity by prosecutors. Carrick was never seen again and his body has not been found.
Casciaro's family appealed and offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to Carrick's killer's arrest and conviction. Casciaro also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in March 2017 against the McHenry County state's attorney's office and Johnsburg police, arguing he was framed and maliciously prosecuted.
Zellner noted a motion to dismiss the case failed and a judge has ordered a settlement conference Feb. 28, records show.
McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally said his office was removed from the lawsuit last year after settling with Casciaro for the "paltry amount" of $50,000.
"It's an unmitigated tragedy. That's what I would say about the entire situation," said Kenneally, adding he is sorry the court system could not provide justice for Carrick and his family. "God knows I tried."