David Ranta spent 23 long years behind bars after being convicted of murder. It was later determined that a rogue New York City detective likely framed him by coercing witnesses and allegedly manufacturing a confession.
The overwhelming evidence facing the city of New York resulted in officials approving a $6.4 million settlement before Ranta even filed a civil rights lawsuit, attorneys announced on Thursday.
“A $150 million claim filed last year by the man, David Ranta, was settled by the city comptroller’s office without ever involving the city’s legal department – which the lawyers involved in the negotiations described as a ‘groundbreaking’ decision that acknowledged the overwhelming evidence the city faced,” the New York Times reports.
In 1990, Ranta was convicted of murdering a Hasidic rabbi named Chaskel Werzberger. The Holocaust survivor was reportedly shot in the head during a jewelry store robbery. The robber killed him and then used his vehicle as a getaway car.
Decades later, a witness came forward and admitted that a detective, Louis Scarcella, had told him to pick the man with the “big nose” out of a lineup. Because Ranta was the only one to fit that description, he picked him. Investigators then contacted two other witnesses who immediately admitted they too lied.
The New York Times has more on this disturbing story:
The two career criminals who implicated Mr. Ranta in the crime used their cooperation in the case as a means to obtain get-out-of-jail excursions provided by Mr. Scarcella, who before retiring had been well regarded for his ability to solve homicides at a time when Brooklyn was awash in violence. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Ranta had always accused the detective of manufacturing his confession. Mr. Scarcella said Mr. Ranta confessed while handcuffed to a bench at Central Booking. Although the allegation about the confession was never proven, the mounting questions about Mr. Scarcella’s methods made it increasingly suspect.
Prosecutors also discovered that Mr. Scarcella had followed up on an anonymous telephone call that attributed the killing to a robber named Joseph Astin. Mr. Scarcella questioned Mr. Astin’s wife and tried to track down a parole officer to collect recent photographs of him. But he dropped that lead when Mr. Astin died in a car accident, and then the officer never submitted any paperwork documenting the time spent investigating him.
Ultimately, Ranta was released from prison and he quickly filed a notice that he would be suing New York City. The city responded with the settlement.
“While no amount of money could ever compensate David for the 23 years that were taken away from him, this settlement allows him the stability to continue to put his life back together,” Ranta’s attorney, Pierre Sussman, said.
Ranta is also expected to file a wrongful-conviction claim against the state of New York.
Further, an investigation conducted by the Times after Ranta was released revealed that detective Scarcella had used the same witnesses in other murder cases and “at least six confessions had included similar phraseology.”
Officials believe Ranta’s case could be the first in a series of wrongful-conviction lawsuits.