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Man in Prison for a Murder He Had No Connection to Will Go Free After 23 Years

"This case killed my whole life . . . I've lived years in a cage, stripped down, humiliated."
 
 
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David Ranta, a 58-year-old man who spent 23 years in prison for a crime he almost certainly didn’t commit, will most likely be released from prison in the upcoming days. In 1991, Ranta was found guilty of murdering a rabbi named Chaskel Werzberger, a Holocaust survivor who was shot in the head in Brooklyn after a failed robbery attempt. Ranta, who was a drug-addicted, unemployed printer at the time, was sentenced to 37.5 years in maximum-security prison. Werzberger’s murder left the Satmar Hasidic community in an uproar. Thousands attended Werzberger’s funeral, including the new Brooklyn district attorney at the time, who promised to bring justice to the community.

A detective named Louis Scarcella was on the hunt to convict someone for Werzberger’s murder, and broke several rules in order to convict Ranta, including keeping few written records and reducing the sentences of two prisoners in exchange for their information.

According to 13-year-old witness Menachem Lieberman, Scarcella even coached him to ‘pick the guy with the big nose,’ when he went in to identify the murderer in the lineup room. Still, Scarcella told the  New York Times that he didn’t frame anyone. According to the Times, another key witness said Ranta was “100 percent not” the murderer. Despite his having no physical connection to the case, Ranta was convicted anyway.

Ranta told the court:

Now you people do what you got to do because I feel this is all a total frame setup … When I come down on my appeal, I hope to God he brings out the truth because a lot of people are going to be ashamed of themselves.

In a 1996 post-conviction, a woman named Theresa Astin told the court that her husband, who had died in a car accident two months after the murder, was the real killer. She said he confessed to her he shot Werzberger — but the judge said her confession was inadequate.

On Thursday, Ranta will be released from a New York state prison and flown to New York City, where a State Supreme Court judge will most likely release him. Ranta’s release comes after a year-long investigation by the district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit. The unit interviewed two witnesses who admitted they fabricated stories. Prosecutors have joined Ranta’s lawyer in calling for his release. 

Ranta told the Times his life has been ruined from this false charge:

I’d lie there in the cell at night and I think: I’m the only one in the world who knows I’m innocent … I came in here as a 30-something with kids, a mother who was alive.

Now, Ranta told the Times that he’s scared of life after prison, not sure of what he’ll do. But he has asked where he could buy a CD for his Walkman.

Last month, another Brooklyn man named William Lopez was also  released from prison after serving 22 years for a murder he didn’t commit.

 

 

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.