A former Illinois grocery store worker, who was the star witness in a missing person’s murder trial, is now saying prosecutors coerced him into giving false testimony to help put an innocent man behind bars.
“All of it was false, every single thing ... the state’s attorney set it up,” Shane Lamb told “20/20” in an exclusive interview from prison where he is serving time for burglary charges.
Lamb was working as a stock boy at Val’s Foods, the only grocery store in the small town of Johnsburg, Illinois, when another stock boy, 17-year-old Brian Carrick, went missing Dec. 20, 2002.
Carrick hasn’t been heard from since and his body has never been found. But in April 2013, another former stock boy, Mario Casciaro, 31, was convicted of first-degree murder with intimidation in Carrick’s death and sentenced to 26 years in prison.
But Lamb, whose testimony was a crucial part to the prosecution’s case against Casciaro, is now claiming neither he nor Casciaro had anything to do with Carrick’s death or disappearance.
“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” Lamb told “20/20.” “Mario didn’t have anything to do with this. He doesn’t deserve to be in prison.”
Casciaro’s family owns Val’s Foods, and several members of the Carrick family, who lived across the street from the store on Johnsburg Road, worked there.
When Brian Carrick disappeared, police later found blood evidence belonging to Carrick in the store’s produce cooler. They also found a bloody fingerprint on the door handle. Authorities were convinced that Carrick was killed over a drug debt he owed Casciaro, who was working at the store the day he disappeared. But with no witnesses or physical evidence linking Casciaro to the crime scene, the investigation went cold.
For years, Lamb denied he knew anything about Carrick’s disappearance. But then, in 2010, he said he was again facing serious charges and made a deal with assistant state's attorney Michael Combs.
“I was arrested for cocaine charges and my offer was 12 years [prison time],” Lamb told “20/20.” “They said that I would be indicted for murder if I didn’t cooperate.”
In a 2010 videotaped meeting with prosecutors obtained by ABC News, Lamb says on the night Carrick was last seen, Casciaro had called Lamb to ask him to come to the store to scare Carrick into paying back drug debts he owed. Prosecutors characterized Casciaro as a drug dealer and Lamb as his enforcer.
Lamb is heard on the tapes telling prosecutors he punched Carrick a few times and left him unconscious in the produce cooler. He claimed that Casciaro then told him, “Get out of here. I’ll take care of this.”
In exchange for incriminating testimony against Casciaro, Lamb said prosecutors offered him immunity from all charges related to Carrick’s death and a reduced sentence on a cocaine conviction.
Casciaro was charged Feb. 25, 2010, with first-degree murder with intimidation and unlawful restraint in Carrick’s disappearance, a rare charge that meant even though Casciaro never touched Carrick, or ordered Lamb to hurt him, he was still responsible for Lamb’s actions that night.
Prosecutors took Casciaro to trial twice. At the end of the first trial, on Feb. 1, 2012, jurors were deadlocked, 11 to one in favor of the prosecution, and a mistrial was declared. The case was retried in March 2013, and on April 2, 2013, Casciaro was found guilty of first-degree murder with intimidation.
Lamb’s testimony played a key role in the prosecution’s case. But now, Lamb claims that everything he said during that 2010 meeting, which was recorded by the state attorney’s office, was false and the incident “never happened.” Lamb said he sat alone with prosecutor Michael Combs for an hour while Combs fed him what to say.
“I was following what [Combs] wanted me to say. They just wanted to close the case,” Lamb said.
This is not the first time Lamb claims he tried to come clean. After Casciaro’s first murder trial in 2012, Lamb said he ran into him at a local bar.
“I was like, ‘If you, you know, you brought me into this. My family doesn’t have money to pay for a lawyer. They don’t have money to bond me out like yours does.’” Lamb said he told Casciaro. “You know, I’m like, ‘They were trying to indict me for murder,’ and I’m like, ‘I didn’t have money to fight this case.’”
Casciaro confirmed Lamb’s story. “He [Lamb] said, ‘They came at me with a murder indictment and they said it was either me or you, and I figured your family had money to defend yourself. You can get a lawyer, I couldn’t,’” Casciaro told “20/20.”
Lamb said that when Combs learned that he had talked to Casciaro about the case, he was called in for a meeting with Combs.
“I thought I was going to get in trouble,” he said. “He [Combs] said, ‘Not as long as you don’t change your story. If you change your story, it’s going to be, you can be indicted for murder.’ ... And I was forced to say nothing.”
Lamb said Combs was determined that someone take the fall for Carrick’s disappearance and at the time, prosecutors were talking to him and another stock boy who worked at Val’s Foods in 2002 named Rob Render.
“[Combs] said Rob Render was in Lake County Jail, if I didn’t want to talk to them, that they’re going to go to Rob Render next,” Lamb said, adding that he thought that meant prosecutors would offer Render the same immunity deal.
But even though Lamb says he is telling the truth now, he is a five-time convicted felon who has a long history of lying and a lengthy rap sheet that includes assault and battery of a police officer.
In a statement to "20/20" about Lamb's recantation and the allegation that he was coerced by prosecutor Combs, the McHenry County state attorney's office said: "Shane Lamb gave a videotaped, recorded account of the incident as it occurred in Johnsburg the day Brian Carrick disappeared. He gave a videotaped recording in the State Attorney’s Office, with the advice and counsel of his attorney and in his attorney’s presence on January 20, 2010. He consistently repeated the same account of the events at two subsequent jury trials."
And in regards to Lamb saying assistant state’s attorney Michael Combs coached him, Combs told “20/20” in a statement today, "Mr. Lamb’s allegations that I coached him for an hour and then brought his attorney into the room and turned on a camera I find it hard to believe that any attorney would allow me an hour with a witness to coach him and then come in the room just as the camera is turned on. It is unworthy of belief, untrue, and to far-fetched."
The Carrick family also rejects Lamb’s latest story. The family, their attorneys and the Johnsburg Village Police Department declined ABC News’ requests for an interview or comment for this story.
Lamb said he understands he’s the reason Casciaro is in prison, but he wants to set the record straight.
“I have absolutely nothing to gain,” he said. “The only thing that can happen to me right now is them recharging me for murder. I have everything to lose right now.”
“I don’t want to be the reason that [Casciaro] is doing 26 years,” Lamb continued. “I just want to tell him I’m sorry, his family that I’m sorry.”
Casciaro, who is serving his prison sentence at Menard Correctional Center, Illinois’ largest maximum security prison, is appealing his conviction. His new attorney, Kathleen Zellner, filed a petition this week to have Cascario’s conviction overturned. His case will be reviewed over the next several months.
“I’m happy that [Lamb is] finally telling the truth,” Casciaro told “20/20.” “I wish he would have done it at the trial so that way I wouldn't have been subjected to this, because this changes your whole life.”