WOODSTOCK – A handful of his supporters rose from their seats Thursday afternoon as jurors acquitted a 19-year-old Hinckley man accused of armed robbery.
Matthew Reno had faced a minimum 21-year prison sentence if convicted of robbing Castle Bank in Huntley at gunpoint March 10, 2008. Some of Reno’s family and friends broke out in tears in the courtroom after hearing the McHenry County jury’s decision after deliberating for about four hours
Reno still faces a felony count of attempted armed robbery in connection with a botched hold-up at Midwest Bank in Union on March 24, 2008. That charge is punishable with between four and 15 years in prison.
Reno’s attorney, Kathleen Colton, said her client, who was 17 when accused of participating in the robberies, maintained his innocence since his arrest.
“We never asked for a plea bargain, never entertained a plea bargain,” she said.
Throughout the three-day trial, Colton emphasized the plea bargain Reno’s good friend and co-defendant Justin Fasel accepted to testify against him.
Fasel, 19, of Big Rock will receive a boot-camp recommendation, rather than at least six years in prison, for telling jurors that he served as the getaway driver.
Fasel testified that he and Reno drove together to Huntley and scoped out the bank near Reno’s friend’s house. Fasel testified that Reno walked slowly toward the bank and then returned running about five minutes later. Fasel said Reno showed him the cash stuffed in his backpack and gave him $8,000 or more, which Fasel said he spent on clothes, shoes, stereo equipment and marijuana.
Colton rested without presenting any evidence on Reno’s behalf Thursday morning and then pointed the finger squarely at Fasel in her closing arguments. Fasel committed the robbery on his own, Colton said, and called him a “lying, drug-dealing, pot-smoking bank robber.”
“He is the Tonya Harding of bank robbers,” she said. “What did he decide to do? He decided to kneecap somebody so he doesn’t go to prison.”
But prosecutors said they weren’t asking the jurors to like Fasel.
“We didn’t pick him,” Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs said. “He’s a rat. He’s ratting out his friend.”
An FBI forensic examiner wrapped up the prosecution’s case, testifying that tire tread marks found in a subdivision near the bank matched Fasel’s car.
Prosecutors opened Tuesday with a bank employee who said she was about 80 percent certain that Reno was the person for whom she held the door as she entered Castle Bank that day as she returned from lunch. The employee did not see the robbery, but soon heard the commotion and then saw, through her office window, the same person running from the bank.
In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors asserted that the bank employee’s testimony and the tire-track evidence would support Fasel’s version of events. But Colton said that a Huntley police detective erred when he showed the bank employee a composite sketch of the suspect before showing her a photo lineup from which she picked Reno.
Prosecutors also had evidence available that they believed showed Reno’s cellular phone had received a call using a Huntley cellular tower about the time of the robbery. Colton had said the phone number involved was listed to Reno’s mother.
Judge Joseph Condon was prepared to consider whether that evidence was admissible based on the evidence the defense presented; because the defense did not present any evidence, Condon did not address the telephone information.
Reno is scheduled to return to McHenry County court Feb. 24 for a status hearing in connection with the attempted robbery charge.
Fasel also told authorities that he and Reno committed robberies in Millbrook and Elburn, but neither have been charged in those cases and the jurors did not learn of those allegations this week.