Murder Conviction Vacated After 23 Years

Filed under: Criminal Law, News by Contributor @ March 25, 2013

58-year-old David Ranta is now a free man, after spending the past 23 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit. In 1990, Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger was killed during a botched diamond heist in New York. Ranta was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 37½ years to life behind bars.

Unfortunately for Ranta, the only thing more botched than the diamond heist was the prosecution of the case. The investigation was anything but fair, riddled with lying individuals and corrupt police. Two men who were facing robbery charges lied and told police that Ranta was the killer, in hopes of getting a lighter sentence in exchange for their cooperation. In addition, a 13-year-old witness identified Ranta in a lineup, but only after allegedly being coached by a detective to “pick the guy with the big nose.” Louis Scarcella, a detective that investigated the case, vehemently denies that any witnesses were coached or that Ranta was framed.

In 2011, that same witness came forward and confessed that he was pressured into identifying Ranta in the lineup. Even more troubling, however, is that Ranta should have been released years ago. In 1995, a woman named Theresa Astin claimed that her deceased husband, Joseph, was the real killer. Joseph Astin was actually a suspect before: a survivor from the diamond heist had been asked to identify Astin as the gunman after he died, but was unable to.

As of today, March 22, Ranta’s judgment of conviction has been vacated and he is now a free man…after spending 23 years of his life in a cell. Now, he intends to file a civil rights lawsuit against the NYPD and the city of New York, but not before reuniting with family and friends. In an unusual reversal of roles in the courtroom the Judge actually apologized to Mr. Ranta for what he has gone through.


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