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Man Framed by Detective To Get $6.4 Million From New York City In Landmark Case

Feb 21, 2014

A man who served over two decades in prison for a murder he did not commit was allegedly framed by a New York City detective. David Ranta will now receive $6.4 million from the City of New York.

Last year, Ranta filed a $150 million claim, which was settled by the New York City’s comptroller’s office before the civil rights lawsuit was filed, according to CBS News. Ranta was convicted of second-degree murder in May 1991 for the February 8, 1990 killing of Brooklyn, New York Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger; Ranta served 23 years of a 37½-year prison sentence.

Rabbi Chaskel was shot in the head by a different man who fled a robbery gone wrong. Ranta was finally cleared of the conviction and released March 2013 after the Brooklyn District Attorney’s (DA) Office reviewed the case, pointing to questions about witness testimony. The DA’s office concluded that detectives mishandled parts of the investigation, according to CBS News.

According to The New York Times, the rapid way in which the comptroller accepted liability in the conviction—the first in what is expected to be numerous other wrongful conviction claims by men imprisoned following the faulty and highly questionable work of detective, Louis Scarcella. Scarcella has been accused of inventing confessions, re-using informers, and coercing witnesses, The New York Times noted.

Scarcella, who has since retired, led the investigation into Rabbi Werzberger’s murder. Once Ranta’s conviction was overturned, at least 12 other convictions tied to Scarcella were investigated, according to CBS News.

In 2011, Menachem Lieberman spoke to Ranta’s trial lawyer and told him that he “had uncertainty and discomfort” over his having identified Ranta in the case. Lieberman gave a sworn statement to the Conviction Integrity Unit, which included details about how Scarcella told him to “pick the one with the big nose” out of the line-up. The man was Ranta. A year-long probe revealed more serious issues associated with Scarcella and the case against Ranta, The New York Times reported. Ranta’s lawyer will be pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.

Rabbi Werzberger was a Holocaust survivor who entered his car at dawn as a jewelry store was being robbed across the street. The rabbi was shot in the head and his station wagon was stolen and used as a getaway car. The jeweler was unharmed. Then-DA Charles J. Hynes’ office long defended the conviction, which included fighting appeals and rejecting evidence that implicated a different killer. After Lieberman came forward, investigators spoke to two other witnesses, career criminals, who admitted that they had lied, implicating Ranta in exchange for a Scarcella-provided get-out-of-jail “excursion,” The New York Times wrote.

Ranta has long maintained that Scarcella lied and Scarcella maintained that Ranta confessed while handcuffed to a bench at Central Booking. Although the allegation was not proven, questions about Scarcella’s methods drew increased controversy. Then, according to The New York Times report, prosecutors learned that Scarcella had pursued an anonymous call that attributed the murder to Joseph Astin, a known robber. Scarcella questioned Astin’s wife and attempted to locate a parole officer for recent photographs of Astin. When Astin died in a car crash, Scarcella stopped looking, never submitting documents concerning that aspect of the investigation. Later, Astin’s wife said her husband was the real killer; however, all legal attempts to free Ranta based on Astin’s wife’s information failed.

Since, Kenneth P. Thompson, the new Brooklyn DA, convened a three-member panel to review dozens of Scarcella’s cases. The panel replaces the controversial Hynes panel. A The New York Times investigation also revealed that, after Ranta’s release, Scarcella had used the same witness in a number of murder cases and that, at least six confessions used the same set of words: “You got it right. I was there.” Some confessions and evidence did not match, according to The New York Times.

Inmate, Sundhe Moses, who was investigated by Scarcella, hired lawyers who located a star witness who acknowledged that detectives coached him to lie. Moses was released by the Parole Board last December after serving 16 years for the murder of a 4-year-old girl, The New York Times wrote.

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