Back in 1990, David Ranta was convicted of the murder of one of Brooklyn's leading Hasidic rabbis. However, 23 years later, after overwhelming evidence surfaced that he was not only innocent, but had been framed by an NYPD detective, Ranta was exonerated and released. Late yesterday, facing a civil-rights suit that it almost certainly would have lost, New York City agreed to pay Ranta $6.4 million in compensation. Even more tellingly, this was a move made by the city comptroller, with no input from the city legal department.
The comptroller’s quick acceptance of liability in the high-profile conviction is also significant because the case is the first of what is expected to be a series of wrongful conviction claims by men who were sent to prison based on the flawed investigative work of the detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of inventing confessions, coercing witnesses and recycling informers.Ranta had announced in May 2013--two months after his release and exoneration--that he intended to sue the city. Negotiations proceeded at a snail's pace until newly elected comptroller Scott Stringer decided to use his authority under the city charter to settle the case, partly because the man who had initially sent Ranta to prison, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, had joined the motion to free Ranta.
“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,” Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, said. “We are now focusing our efforts on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.”
Mr. Sussman added that Mr. Ranta, who, at 58, had a heart attack the day after he was released last March, “would like everyone to know he is happy to have a chance at recovering his health, taking care of his heart and being there for his family and children.”
Ranta had maintained for years that Scarcella had fabricated a confession he'd supposedly made at Central Booking. Even though more doubts had surfaced over the years about his conviction, nothing came of them until 2011, when one of the witnesses who identified Ranta, Menachem Lieberman, dropped a bombshell--he'd been told to pick Ranta out of a police lineup. When Hynes got wind of this, he launched an investigation that uncovered several ghastly irregularities that made it impossible for them to stand by the conviction. After Hynes discovered several other irregularities in Scarcella's case file, he launched a review of some 50 of Scarcella's cases.
While it's not known yet whether there are any irregularities as egregious as what happened with Ranta, the fact that Stringer decided to settle this without going to trial doesn't bode well for either the NYPD or Scarcella.