In what is being described as a groundbreaking case, a man who just completed 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit after allegedly being framed by a New York City detective, will receive $6.4 million from the City of New York.
Last year, David Ranta filed a $150 million claim, which was settled by the New York City’s comptroller’s office just prior to filing of a civil rights lawsuit, according to CBS News. Ranta was convicted of second-degree murder in 1991 for the February 8, 1990 killing of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, of Brooklyn, New York. Ranta served 23 years of a 37½-year prison sentence.
A different man fleeing from a robbery shot Rabbi Chaskel in the head. The man stole the rabbi’s car, leaving him to die. The jewelry store owner survived unharmed. Almost 30 years later, Ranta was cleared of the conviction and was released March 2013 after the Brooklyn District Attorney’s (DA) Office reviewed the case. The review raised concerns about some issues surrounding witness testimony and ultimately concluded that detectives mishandled parts of the investigation, according to CBS News (Ranta’s case was covered extensively in a 2013 CBS documentary series entitled “Brooklyn D.A.”).
The quick manner in which the comptroller accepted liability in the Ranta conviction, according to The New York Times, is noteworthy. The case is likely to be the first of many other wrongful conviction claims expected to be brought by men sent to prison after the faulty and very dubious work of detective Louis Scarcella. Now-retired Scarcella has been accused of inventing confessions, re-using informers, and coercing witnesses, The New York Times wrote. Scarcella was the lead detective in the investigation into Rabbi Werzberger’s murder.
As soon as Ranta’s conviction was overturned, probes into at least 12 other convictions associated with Scarcella were implemented, according to CBS News.
Menachem Lieberman came forward in 2011 and approached Ranta’s trial lawyer to advise him that he “had uncertainty and discomfort” over having identified Ranta in the rabbi’s death. Lieberman issued a sworn statement to the Conviction Integrity Unit, which included details on how Scarcella told him to “pick the one with the big nose” out of the line-up; Scarcella was referring to Ranta. A year-long investigation revealed significant issues associated with Scarcella and the case against Ranta, The New York Times reported. Ranta’s lawyer has since stated that he will pursue an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.
Then-DA Charles J. Hynes’ office had long defended Ranta’s conviction, fighting appeals and rejecting evidence implicating a different killer. Meanwhile, after Lieberman came forward, investigators met with two other witnesses, both known career criminals, who admitted to having lied and to implicating Ranta in exchange for what The New York Times described as a get-out-of-jail “excursion” from Scarcella.
Ranta said from the start that Scarcella lied; Scarcella continued to maintain that Ranta confessed while he was handcuffed to a bench at Central Booking. Although the allegation remains unproven, questions about Scarcella’s methods drew increased questions. According to The New York Times report, prosecutors learned that Scarcella pursued an anonymous call that attributed the rabbi’s murder to known robber named Joseph Astin. Scarcella questioned Astin’s wife and also tried to find a parole officer to obtain a recent photograph of Astin. Astin died in a car crash and Scarcella stopped his investigation and never submitted documents on that part of the investigation. Years later, Astin’s wife said that her husband killed the rabbi. Meanwhile, every legal attempt to free Ranta based on Astin’s wife’s information failed.
Kenneth P. Thompson, the new Brooklyn DA, has convened a three-member panel. The panel will replace the controversial Hynes panel and will be reviewing dozens of Scarcella’s cases.
A The New York Times investigation also revealed that Scarcella used the same witness in a number of murder cases and at least six confessions used the same verbiage: “You got it right. I was there.” Also, some confessions did not match the evidence. The New York Times investigation also revealed that inmate Sundhe Moses, another man investigated by Scarcella, hired lawyers who located a star witness who acknowledged that detectives coached him to lie. Moses was finally released by the Parole Board in December after serving 16 years for the murder of a 4-year-old girl.