Brooklyn man released from jail after 22-year murder conviction is overturned
A 58-year-old Brooklyn man was released from prison Thursday after his murder conviction was overturned following a witness’ confession that he was coaxed by authorities into identifying him as the suspect, CNN reported on Friday.
“As I said from the beginning, I had nothing to do with this case,” David Ranta said after leaving prison.
Ranta was convicted in 1991 for the murder of local rabbi Chaskel Werzberger in what police described as a botched jewel robbery.
The New York Times reported that at an appeal hearing five years later, Theresa Astin, whose husband Joseph was a known jewelry thief, testified that he was the man actually responsible for the crime. Joseph Astin, she said, was dismantling his gun in their bathroom and “prayed every day and went to church that the rabbi would live.” Joseph Astin was killed in a car crash two months after Werzberger’s death. Prosecutors managed to undermine Theresa Astin’s testimony, citing her prior criminal record and drug habit.
Ranta’s case was reopened in 2011, after a witness, Menachem Lieberman, told his court-appointed attorney that police had told him to “pick the guy with the big nose” when identifying suspects in a lineup.
“I was too young back then to realize that this was a setup,” Lieberman told CNN host Anderson Cooper on Thursday. Lieberman was 13 at the time. “To me this was just basically, I never saw a lineup before, I was just part of the process.”
A subsequent investigation found that two other witnesses had lied during the case. But Detective Louis Scarcella, who investigated the rabbi’s murder, said that a confession issued by Ranta was not recorded.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Scarcella told CNN. “I stand by my investigation, and I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Another attorney for Ranta, Pierre Sussman, said on Thursday that he will file a federal civil rights suit against both the New York Police Department and the city of New York.
“My client had 23 years taken from him,” Sussman said. “It is a lifetime, it’s a generation. And if you look at those before and after pictures, before he went in, and now that he’s out, it’s a different person.”
Watch CNN’s report on Ranta’s release, aired Friday, below.