Despite a co-defendant's testimony fingering Matthew G. Reno for the 2008 holdup of a Huntley bank, a McHenry County jury Thursday declared the DeKalb County teen not guilty, sparing him a minimum 21-year prison sentence.
Jurors deliberated nearly four hours before reaching the verdict on an armed robbery charge stemming from the March 10, 2008, stickup of Castle Bank in which, authorities said, a robber made off with more than $13,000.
Reno, 19, of Hinckley, shed tears and hugged his attorney and mother after Judge Joseph Condon read the not guilty verdict.
"He's maintained his innocence from day one," Reno attorney Kathleen Colton said. "We never entertained a plea deal, never requested one. This is a very good day for him."
Jurors approached after being released declined to comment on their decision.
Their deliberations began Thursday morning after the three-day trial came to an abrupt end when Reno's defense decided not to call him or any other witnesses. Instead, the defense focused on a closing argument that attempted to discredit the prosecution's evidence and particularly its key witness, co-defendant Justin Fasel.
Fasel, 19, of Big Rock, testified earlier this week that he served as Reno's getaway driver when he robbed Castle Bank, 11700 Route 47. In exchange for testifying against Reno - who he described as his "very good friend" - Fasel got a deal from prosecutors that will allow him to admit to a reduced charge for his role in the holdup, prevent him from being charged in at least one other bank robbery he has admitted to and receive a four-month stay in a prison boot camp rather than at least six years behind bars.
Colton labeled Fasel a "lying, drug-dealing, pot-smoking bank robber" who pulled the stickup himself and blamed Reno when he got caught.
"He is the Tonya Harding of bank robbery," she said. "He decided to kneecap somebody.
"The state has done a good job of proving that Justin Fasel robbed Castle Bank," she added. "That's all they've proven."
McHenry County prosecutors were no kinder in their description of Fasel, calling him a "rat" and "scumbag." But his account, they added, is corroborated by other evidence, including a bank employee who identified Reno in a photo lineup and in court said she is "80 percent sure" he was the bank robber.