Transcript for Why Man Walked Free From 26-Year Prison Sentence For Murder
here tonight with an incredible reversal of fortune for one man sentenced to nearly three decades in jai do. Get that check and come on home and foot feed the children. ? Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na mama going to be there for you ? ? a Na Na Na N Na Na Na Na Na Na I love you baby ? I gotta run run rurunn run ru run runun R run run run rubyn Ba ? ? Powerhouse attorney Kathleen Zellner. The prosecutors overreached extraordinarily to get this conviction. Reporter: Kathleen said the state was dead wrong from the start. And in reviewing the evidence readily available she became convinced she knew the identity of the real killer and was determined to set Mario free. This will just be reversed outright. Reporter: It's part of a twisted murder mystery that's haunted the small village of johnsburg, Illinois, for more than 12 years. Winter 2002, 19-year-old Mario was working at his father's grocery store, Val's foods. Five days before Christmas one of the stock boys, Brian care Rick, walked into the store looking for a co-worker and was never seen again. Holy Mary, mother of god -- Reporter: His body never found. His mother terry heartbroken. The torture of not knowing where he is, every parent's worst nightmare. Reporter: Authorities found traces of blood in and around the produce cooler. Suspecting foul play, they questioned everyone. Including three stock boys. Shane lam, Ron render, and Mario kasharo, but quickly turned their attention to the boss' son, Mario. Completely shocked. Mario's one of the nicest -- just a sweetheart. Reporter: Cops were beginning to develop a more sinister profile as Brian's father William kerik would share with the local reporter. Mario allegedly was selling dope. And I think he cowearsed my son into working for him. Reporter: Mario admitted to sometimes selling pot. But denied ever running a drug ring. I would I guess sell people pot out of my personal stash. It wasn't anything that I ever -- it wasn't a criminal enterprise. Reporter: Authorities were convinced that Brian was killed over a $400 or $500 drug debt. But with no eyewitnesses or a body, the case went cold. Over the next eight years, Mario would graduate from college. Take the reins of the family business. Brian's disappearance a distant and painful memory. Until an eyewitness came forward -- Hit Brian a few times. Reporter: With a tale of violence from the produce cooler. Bleeding from his mouth, fell out. How hard? Knocked him out. Reporter: Shane lam, one of the stock boys. He previously denied knowing anything about Brian's disappearance but now that he was in jail facing up to 12 years on drug charges he had a story to tell. In exchange for a deal and full immunity on the crime against Brian Shane recalled how Mario wanted him to help settle a debt. Went over there. Told Brian, what's up with the money you owe him? Pay him money back. We got to arguing. Mario said it was getting too loud. Go in the produce cooler. Reporter: That's when Shane said things turned violent. He said he knocked Brian unconscious and then Mario told him to leave the for murdering his co-worker. ABC's Ryan smith has been following this case for years and when a bombshell development changed everything, our cameras were right there as an innocent man Reporter: The first time I met Mario kasharo inside Menard correctional center, one of the toughest M prisons in the country. Can you make it 26 years in here? I don't want to. I don't want to sit every day thinking about how did I get here? The college graduate with a bright future a convicted murderer floor. Mario was loc up for killing -year-old Brian care Rick, wrongfully convicted, he said. Y are rounsespo iibleyn an for his death? No. Reporter: His family determined to prove his O physical evidence, no DNA. Reporter: Hired render and Brian Carrick had an altercation because both their blood is at the crime scene. Reporter: Brian's blood in the hallway, rob's bloody fingerprint on the cooler door handle and inside the door more of rob render's blood. Evidence Kathleen says the state all but ignored at trial. When police asked rob why so much of his blood was found near the cooler -- Cut my finger, who knows. Maybe I bit my nail so bad that it bled a little bit. There's no way that this amount of blood could have been left by rob render biting his nails. Reporter: For Kathleen, there was motive. Brian turned in rob for stealing booze, demanded monoed him for pot, and a new witness. What did this new witness say? Said that remembereder had made a statement to him just a week before Brian disappeared that he was very angry with Brian and that he was going to jump him. With a weapon. Reporter: That matched her version of events. Kathleen said the fatal blow wasn't from a punch, as Shane lam said, but from a knife. I believe that render come up behind him like this and cuts his throat. Reporter: Render was never called to testify. After years of struggling with drug addiction, he overdosed in 2011. Mindy Lindholm, rob's older sister, passionately defends her brother. The premise that my brother could have possibly killed Brian over $30 or over him telling on him or anything as ridiculous, my brother having an explosive temper is absolutely ridiculous. I'm sure prosecutors will say this is a classic case of blaming the dead guy. Doesn't mean dead guys didn't commit murders. The only person that owes money to Brian Carrick is render. The only person who's ever described wanting to jump him with a weapon is render. The only person in that back hallway is render. Reporter: Another bombshell. The state's star witness, Shane lam, whose testimony put Mario behind bars -- made a shocking about-face. All of it was false. Every single thing. The state set it up. They said I'd be indicted for murder if I didn't cooperate. Reporter: In a statement to ABC news, the prosecutor's office denied coaching Shane lam out of the presence of his lawyer, calling it unworthy of belief, untrue, and far-fetched. But Shane's recantatation combined with confess evidence against Mario amounted to a powerful appeal of Mario's murder conviction. Last week the appellate court of Illinois reversed the decision. A panel of judges slammed the prosecution's case, calling their theory unreasonable, improbable, and unsatisfactory. Two years into his 26-year sentence -- Mario walked out of prison a free man. Greeted by a busload of cheering family members and friends. How does it feel to be free? Amazing. Cooler. He said, go away, I'll handle this. I left, went back to the party. The blood evidence and focused on Mario's role as T mastermind to Shane's music. Ou thhagh Sayne ssar mioerev N la a handbrian, prosecutors insipsed he was guilty of the rare of murder with intimidation. By uttering the words O him" they sayri maaso W sprebl sioron fryeveg eintth followed, including Brian's murder. The strategy worked and Mario was sentenced to 26 years. His family determined to set him free. We're going to fight to the very end because100% behind him. R orteep attr:neyor Kathleen llneze says you onl have to look at the crime scene to know the real killer is not Mario or Shane. We know that robagain. Reporter: For "Nightline," Ryan smith, ABC news, New York.
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