WOODSTOCK – Though Mario Casciaro is set to depart for an extended term behind bars for the death of a missing Johnsburg teen, his sentence does not bring comfort to the victim's family, whose questions about his disappearance have gone unanswered.
A jury in April convicted Casciaro, 30, of first-degree murder for the death of 17-year-old Brian Carrick. McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather on Thursday sentenced Casciaro to 26 years in prison.
Prather acknowledged the tragedy of the decade-long mystery that had stymied detectives; a case that was lived and breathed by prosecutors; and one that captivated the small village.
The judge called the crime "heartbreaking" and "senseless."
"There is no sentence the court can impose that will make anyone feel like justice has been served," Prather said.
Carrick's father, Bill, agreed.
"I don't understand that word closure," he said. "I believe in God, and I'm looking forward to seeing my son again."
Therese Carrick wanted answers about what happened to her brother the night he last was seen walking into Val's Foods – a grocery store where Brian worked that was across the street from where he and his 13 siblings children were raised.
"Mario knows and he chooses not to talk about his role and his actions in what happened," Therese Carrick said on the stand, eyes locked on Casciaro. "Therefore none of us will know."
With credit for nearly two years served in jail, Casciaro will be 54 years old when he's released. But he maintains his innocence and has appealed the verdict.
A parade of character witnesses called him hardworking, caring, trustworthy, and honest. He'd never hurt a fly, they said. Casciaro graduated from Illinois State University, and worked at the family business instead of going to law school.
In his closing argument, lead prosecutor Michael Combs, who also is chief of the State's Attorney's criminal division, said Casciaro took Carrick's similar future away from him.
"It'd be really nice if Brian Carrick had the opportunity to go to college and make a career for himself," Combs said. "But he didn't because of this defendant."
Carrick last was seen Dec. 20, 2002, at Val's Foods where he worked with Casciaro and the man prosecutors said he used as a "blunt force instrument" in Carrick's death.
On the stand, Shane Lamb testified that it was he who likely threw the fatal punch. Casciaro sent him to "talk to" Carrick about a drug debt, Lamb said. But he lost his temper and hit the teen who "fell down." Prosecutors said Casciaro, under the law, was responsible for Lamb's actions.
Outside the courthouse, Casciaro's family blasted prosecutors, who they said went after the wrong man.
"Shane Lamb is the one that struck Brian and he got nothing," Casciaro's defense attorney Brian Telander said.
For his testimony, Lamb – a five-time convicted felon – received full immunity from murder charges, and a reduced sentence on an unrelated drug offense. He picked up misdemeanor battery charges in November stemming from a bar fight in McHenry. For that, Prather sentenced him to probation.
McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi defended the Lamb deal.
"It was a break in the case that we had to take advantage of," Bianchi said. "Sometimes you have to take whatever you can get to get a conviction." Brian Carrick's body never was found and the case remains an open missing person FBI investigation.
"Not only did we lose what Brian was and what he could have been, but his body was never recovered," Bill Carrick said. "We don't even have a body to commend back to God."
Casciaro's father, Jerry offered a $25,000 reward for anyone with information about the whereabouts of Carrick's body.
Combs called the reward a "publicity stunt."
"We know who is responsible for the disappearance of Brian Carrick and that's Mario Casciaro," Combs said. "He's not going to give $25,000 to anybody because nobody's coming forward."
Still, Casciaro maintained his innocence.
"I can't take responsibility for something I didn't do," he said before a standing-room only courtroom. Speaking directly to Bill Carrick, he said: "I swear to you from the depths of my heart and soul that I had nothing to do with Brian's disappearance."
Thursday's sentencing marked the beginning of a new legal battle for Casciaro. He has retained high-profile civil rights attorney Kathleen Zellner for his appeal.
Telander was confident the appeal will be successful, which would put it back before Prather for a third time. Casciaro first was tried for the murder in 2012, but it ended in a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict.
"This is the thinnest murder case I've ever seen," Telander said.