A man already on the list of those that Chicago lawyer Kathleen Zellner has exonerated has settled a civil lawsuit against a member of the office that brought murder charges against him.
Mario Casciaro, who was freed from prison in 2015, settled the civil complaint filed against a member of the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office for $50,000. The settlement was announced on Friday, September 8.
Casciaro is also suing local officials, including Johnsburg Police Department brass. He is seeking millions of dollars there.
“The major part of the case is against the [Village] of Johnsburg [and] the police chief for the fabrication of evidence and Brady violations,” Zellner said.
Zellner, who also represents Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery, said she was surprised McHenry County decided to settle because DAs are immune from prosecution for what they allege during a criminal trial, a common defense when allegations are brought against prosecutors.
State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said Casciaro’s suit was a “baseless and false allegation against a member of the state’s attorney’s office,” and that his office has not admitted wrongdoing by reaching a settlement.
“Our acceptance is in no way a recognition of wrongdoing on the part of this office,” Kenneally said in a statement.
“We remain confident that the office properly brought charges against Mr. Casciaro and maintained the highest level of professionalism and integrity throughout the prosecution, which resulted in a jury of 12 citizens finding Mr. Casciaro guilty of felony murder beyond a reasonable doubt.”
A county insurance policy will cover $45,000 of the settlement. The county will make up the difference.
Casciaro, now 33, was released after 22 months in prison when the appellate court ruled the state did not have sufficient evidence to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The ruling does not mean he did not commit the crime, however, which is why Zellner is also seeking a certificate of innocence in a separate McHenry County case.
Casciaro’s conviction stemmed from the December 20, 2002 disappearance of 17-year-old Brian Carrick, his co-worker at a Johnsburg grocery store owned by Casciaro’s parents.
For years, there were few leads in the case, only rumors like the one that Carrick was killed in the store’s produce cooler. There were initial persons of interest, but no official suspects.
In years following Carrick’s disappearance, Casciaro went on to earn a degree in finance and returned to help his family expand their business. In 2010, things took a bizarre turn in the case, one that found Casciaro on trial for murder.
Shane Lamb, a former stock boy at the Casciaro family store, offered prosecutors information about what happened to Brian Carrick. Lamb was previously questioned about teen’s whereabouts but denied any knowledge. His story changed when he was threatened with 12 years behind bars for cocaine possession. That’s when he told authorities Casciaro was a drug dealer and that Carrick owed him money. Lamb claimed Casciaro asked him to come to the store on December 20 and scare Carrick about the debt. He said he punched Carrick, leaving him unconscious inside the cooler. Lamb said Casciaro then told him to leave and that he would “take care of” Carrick.
Lamb, who was arrested for attempted murder at 14, had just been released from a juvenile detention center when Carrick disappeared. Casciaro said although Lamb worked for his family’s store, he barely knew him and that the events he described to prosecutors never happened.
But prosecutors charged Casciaro with first-degree murder, unlawful restraint and intimidation in February 2010, even though there was nothing tying him to a crime scene. Casciaro said he did smoke marijuana back in 2002 and that he sometimes sold some to friends, but was not a dealer.
Casciaro was tried twice for Carrick’s murder. The first ended in a mistrial after 12 hours of jury deliberation. He was found guilty in 2013 and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Lamb was the state’s star witness but later recanted his testimony.
Casciaro is now in law school. Carrick’s body has never been found.
[Feature Image by Illinois Department of Corrections]