WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County judge rejected a request from Mario Casciaro
to toss a jury's verdict that found him guilty of first-degree murder.
In a 20-page written ruling handed to attorneys on Tuesday, Judge Sharon Prather also denied Casciaro's request for a new trial – that court filing was a legal move to set the stage for his appeal.
"[I'm] numb. I'm devastated. It's not fair," Casciaro's mother, Maria, said after her son's brief court appearance.
Casciaro, 30, was convicted April 2 in his second trial for the death of missing Johnsburg teen Brian Carrick. His first trial in January 2012 ended in a mistrial after a jury failed to reach a unanimous decision.
Carrick last was seen Dec. 20, 2002, walking into Val's Foods where he and Casciaro both worked at the time. Carrick's body never was found.
A third man and the state's key witness, Shane Lamb, admitted on the stand that he likely threw the punch that killed Carrick.
Lamb, prosecutors said, was used by Casciaro as a "henchman" to collect on a drug debt owed by Carrick, and therefore Casciaro was responsible for Lamb's actions – and the presumed death of the teenager.
Lamb testified that he hit Carrick in the face, the teen "went down," and Lamb never saw him again.
Defense attorney Brian Telander argued that Casciaro cannot be found guilty of murder predicated on intimidation without evidence that he solicited Lamb to threaten Carrick. Casciaro asked Lamb only to "talk to" Carrick about the debt.
Prather disagreed. She ruled the prosecution's evidence was sufficient to show that Casciaro used Lamb as his muscle, and "the jury could infer that [Casciaro] and Shane Lamb intended to use whatever force necessary to intimidate Brian Carrick into paying the money he owed [Casciaro]," the judge wrote.
Lamb, a five-time convicted felon, was offered immunity from murder charges and a reduced prison sentenced on a cocaine conviction – unrelated to Carrick's disappearance – in exchange for his testimony.
Earlier this month, Lamb was sentenced to a year of probation on a misdemeanor battery charge he picked up in November after a bar fight in McHenry.
Casciaro supporters – particularly his mother, Maria – said there was a cover-up. Outside the courtroom, his brother, Eugene Casciaro, questioned Lamb's most recent sentence, asking why Lamb keeps getting a break. The McHenry County State's Attorney's Office called in an outside attorney to prosecute Lamb's misdemeanor case.
"I'm sick and tired of [Casciaro's] family acting like he was railroaded, that we're making stuff up," Assistant State's Attorney Michael Combs said. " … It's a bunch of nonsense."
Combs, who also is chief of the State's Attorney's Criminal Division, said he was convinced that Casciaro's requests would be denied.
"I'm not surprised, I was confident we'd prevail all along because the law was on our side," Combs said.
Equally as self-assured was Telander, who believes the verdict will be overturned in appellate court. High-profile attorney Kathleen Zellner has been retained for Casciaro's appeal.
"I am extremely confident in a successful appeal," Telander said. "I have never seen a case that has had this many legitimate issues."
Some issues, Telander said, came during closing arguments when Prather told Telander to "wrap it up."
"In 35 years of practice, I've never seen closing arguments cut off by a judge in a murder case – ever," he said.
But Prather said presiding judges are granted wide latitude in limiting the scope and duration of closing arguments. Still, she rejected Telander's claim that she cut him off.
Casciaro faces between 20 and 60 years in prison. He will be sentenced Nov. 14.