NYPD Accused of New Wrongful Conviction
BROOKLYN (CN) - The family of a man who spent 23 years in prison after being falsely convicted of murdering a prominent rabbi in 1990 has filed a $15 million lawsuit against New York City and its police department.
Patricia Ranta, the former wife of David Ranta, and their two children seek damages "for being deprived of their intimate familial relations" with David Ranta, "who was maliciously and despotically torn away from them and wrongfully imprisoned for over twenty-three years for a highly publicized murder that he did not commit," they claim in the lawsuit.
"Plaintiffs were branded as the family of a murderer and deprived of the love and affection of their husband and father."
Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, 56, was shot and killed in a botched robbery of a jewelry courier with a suitcase full of diamonds on Feb. 8, 1990.
The jeweler got away, but the gunman then walked over to the rabbi while he was warming up his car nearby and shot him in the head. The gunman pulled him out of the vehicle and drove off. The rabbi died.
Patricia Renta claims in the lawsuit that the "pressure on police to solve this brutal murder was great," so NYPD Detectives Louis Scarcella and Stephen Chmil conspired to arrest David Ranta and pin the murder on him "without any reasonable suspicion or probable cause."
She claims the detectives coached a key identification witness, created false evidence, incentivized another witness to give false testimony, suppressed evidence and perjured themselves.
She says detectives were unable to get a match in at least two lineups, and that Ranta passed more than one polygraph examination in declaring his innocence.
David Ranta was convicted by a jury on May 22, 1991 and sentenced to 37½ years in prison.
His initial appeal was denied, but in 1996 the wife of Thomas Joseph Astin signed a sworn affidavit saying that her husband, before he was killed in a car crash, admitted that he killed the rabbi.
Still, a new trial was denied.
A Conviction Integrity Unit reopened the case in 2011, and one of the witnesses who identified Ranta in a lineup said detectives coached him to pick Ranta. Investigators also learned that while detectives were interrogating two other men, both were allowed to leave jail, smoke crack cocaine and have sex with prostitutes in exchange for implicating Ranta, the lawsuit states.
Kings County Supreme Court Justice Miriam Cyrulnik granted Ranta's motion to vacate his conviction on March 21, 2013.
Patricia Ranta claims the Brooklyn Conviction Integrity Unit has reinvestigated 57 cases in which Det. Scarcella was involved. The New York Times published an article accusing Scarcella, who retired in 1999, of misconduct in many investigations, including fabricating evidence, coercing witnesses and hiding evidence.
Patricia Ranta, who had been married for only a few years after marrying when she was 18, was granted a divorce in 2005 and never remarried.
She seeks $15 million for violations of the 14th Amendment.
She is represented by Peter Dee with Mavronicolas, Mueller & Dee.