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Mario Casciaro

Other Exonerations in Juvenile Murder Cases
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On December 21, 2002, 17-year-old Brian Carrick, a stock boy at Val’s Foods, a grocery store in Johnsburg, Illinois, was reported missing by his mother. Police determined that one of the last sightings of Carrick was a day earlier, on December 20, when he went to the store to pick up his paycheck.

On December 22, police found blood spatter near a cooler used to store produce and a bloody fingerprint on the cooler’s exterior door handle. A DNA profile of Carrick was developed and DNA tests identified the blood spatter in the cooler and the blood on the door handle as Carrick’s.

The fingerprint and the blood the print was in that was on the cooler door handle was identified by DNA testing as belonging to Robert Render, another stock boy at Val’s. Witnesses said Render was present at the store on December 20. He quit his job at the store on December 22 and dropped out of sight.

Other stock boys present on the day Carrick was last seen included 19-year-old Mario Casciaro, whose father owned the store and who was the unofficial manager of all the stock boys, as well as 18-year-old Shane Lamb, who had been committed to the juvenile division of the Illinois Department of Corrections at age 14 for attempted murder and spent most of his high school years there.

The crime went unsolved for several years. Carrick’s body was never found.

In June 2007, McHenry County prosecutors charged Casciaro, then 24 years old, with nine counts of perjury. He was accused of giving false testimony to a grand jury investigating Carrick’s death about conversations he had with an acquaintance named Alan Lippert. Some of the conversations were secretly recorded and some occurred when Lippert was heavily intoxicated.

One of the perjury charges was based on Casciaro saying “no” when he was asked, “Did you say to Alan Lippert that you directed Shane Lamb to scare Brian Carrick and things got out of hand?” Casciaro was accused of lying when he denied telling Lippert that he called his cousins from Chicago to dispose of Carrick’s body. He also denied telling Lippert that the body initially was buried locally and ultimately moved, dismembered and thrown into a river in Iowa.

In July 2008, Render, whose bloody fingerprint was found on the cooler door handle, was arrested on a charge of concealing a homicide. However, the charges were dropped in January 2009.

By the time Casciaro went to trial in McHenry County Circuit Court on the perjury charges, only two remained. Seven of the counts were dismissed because they were based on taped conversations that were too garbled to use as evidence. Casciaro was acquitted of the remaining two counts in August 2009 by a judge who heard the case without a jury. The judge said the evidence—which consisted of Lippert’s testimony during which he admitted that his memory of the critical conversation with Casciaro was like a “dream” due to his intoxication—was insufficient to sustain a conviction.

In January 2010, McHenry County prosecutors granted full immunity to Shane Lamb in return for testimony that implicated Casciaro in Carrick’s death.

In February, Casciaro was arrested and charged with felony murder and concealing a homicide. The murder indictment said that Casciaro “or one for whom he was legally accountable, while committing or attempting to commit the forcible felony of intimidation, struck Carrick in the head, causing his death.”

Casciaro went to trial in McHenry County Circuit Court in January 2012. Lamb — whose deal with prosecutors resulted in a six-year prison sentence for possession and distribution of cocaine—testified that Casciaro supplied him and Carrick with marijuana to sell and they returned a portion of the proceeds to Casciaro. Lamb told the jury that Casciaro called him to the store that day to help collect money from Carrick.

“If he hadn’t called me, I wouldn’t be there,” said Lamb, who prosecutors called “the muscle” for Casciaro.

Lamb, who was six feet tall and weighed about 240 pounds, said he got angry during a conversation in the produce cooler with Carrick, who was about 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed about 130 pounds. Lamb said he punched Carrick in the face and Carrick fell “straight back.”

“I thought I just knocked him out. I knocked out a lot of people,” he said. “Mario grabbed me and said, ‘Get out of here.’”

Lamb admitted on cross-examination that he lied repeatedly about Carrick’s disappearance, including telling a grand jury in 2007 that he knew nothing about what happened to him. “I wasn’t going to admit to anything that might get me in trouble,” Lamb said.

Lamb admitted Casciaro never ordered him to punch or hurt Carrick.

Lippert, whose testimony had been insufficient to obtain the perjury convictions against Casciaro, testified that he was out drinking with Casciaro in the fall of 2006 and asked Casciaro what had happened.

Lippert told the jury that Casciaro said that “Things got out of hand. He told me Shane hit (Carrick) or something, but it was an accident.”

Lippert also testified that Casciaro said he summoned relatives to help move the body to a river in Iowa. On cross-examination, Lippert admitted that he had told authorities in 2008 that his conversation with Casciaro was “like a dream.”

On February 1, 2012, a mistrial was declared after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, voting 11-to-1 to convict. Casciaro went to trial a second time in March 2013 and, based on the same evidence, was convicted on April 2, 2013. He was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

In October 2014, while Casciaro’s conviction was on appeal, Lamb recanted his trial testimony in an interview with reporters for the television news program “20/20.”

“All of it was false, every single thing…the state’s attorney set it up,” Lamb said during the interview from his Illinois prison where he was serving time for a burglary conviction.

“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” Lamb said. “Mario didn’t have anything to do with this. He doesn’t deserve to be in prison.”

According to Lamb, after he was arrested for distribution and possession of cocaine, he was facing 12 years in prison, the prosecution told him “I would be indicted for murder if I didn’t cooperate.”

He said that he sat alone with McHenry County prosecutor Michael Combs for an hour. “I was following what (Combs) wanted me to say. They just wanted to close the case,” Lamb said.

Combs denied the claim, calling it “unworthy of belief, untrue and too far-fetched.”

In September 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court vacated Casciaro’s conviction, ruling that evidence was insufficient to convict him. The court ordered the charges dismissed. Casciaro was released from prison on bond on September 23, 2015 while the prosecution filed a request with the Illinois Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Appellate Court ruling. On March 30, 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled it would not consider the appeal.

In March 2017, Casciaro's lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on his behalf seeking damages. In September 2017, the Henry County State's Attorney's Office agreed to a $50,000 settlement. The lawsuit remained pending.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/12/2016
Last Updated: 9/12/2017
State:Illinois
County:McHenry
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Convicted:2013
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:26 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No