Meanwhile, a different man who was fleeing from a robbery, shot Rabbi Chaskel in the head, killing him; he escaped in the rabbi’s car. The jewelry store owner survived unharmed. Nearly 30 years later, Ranta was finally cleared of the conviction and released March 2013 following the Brooklyn District Attorney’s (DA) Office review of the case. The review raised serious issues regarding issues concerning witness testimony. The investigation ultimately concluded that detectives mishandled parts of the investigation, according to CBS News (Ranta’s case was covered extensively in a 2013 CBS documentary series entitled “Brooklyn D.A.”).
The quick way in which the comptroller accepted liability in the Ranta conviction is noteworthy, according to The New York Times. The case is expected to be the first of many other wrongful conviction claims that will likely be brought by men who were sent to prison after the flawed and very suspicious work of detective Louis Scarcella. Now-retired Scarcella has been accused of contriving confessions, recycling informers, and intimidating witnesses, The New York Times wrote. Scarcella was the lead detective in the investigation into Rabbi Werzberger’s murder.
When Ranta’s conviction was overturned, investigations into at least 12 other convictions associated with Scarcella were implemented, according to CBS News.
A witness from the Ranta case, Menachem Lieberman, came forward in 2011, approaching Ranta’s trial lawyer. Lieberman advised the lawyer that he “had uncertainty and discomfort” over having identified Ranta in the rabbi’s death. Issuing a sworn statement to the Conviction Integrity Unit, Lieberman also discussed details on how Scarcella told him to “pick the one with the big nose” out of the line-up; Scarcella was referring to Ranta. A year-long investigation revealed serious issues tied to Scarcella and the case against Ranta, The New York Times reported. Ranta’s lawyer has since said he plans on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.
Then-DA Charles J. Hynes’ office long defended Ranta’s conviction, even fighting appeals and rejecting evidence that implicated a different killer. Meanwhile, once Lieberman came forward, investigators met with two other witnesses, who are both known career criminals. The two admitted to having lied and to implicating Ranta in exchange for what The New York Times called a get-out-of-jail “excursion” from Scarcella.
Ranta has said from the very beginning that Scarcella lied; Scarcella continued to say that Ranta confessed while handcuffed to a bench at Central Booking. The allegation remains unproven; however, questions about Scarcella’s methods have drawn mounting criticism. According to The New York Times report, prosecutors discovered that Scarcella pursued an anonymous call attributing the rabbi’s murder to known robber, Joseph Astin. Scarcella questioned Astin’s wife and attempted to locate a parole officer to obtain a recent photograph of Astin, until Astin died in a car crash, at which point, Scarcella stopped his investigation. He never submitted documents on that part of the investigation. Years later, Astin’s wife came forward to say that her husband killed the rabbi. Meanwhile, every legal attempt to free Ranta that was based on Astin’s wife’s information, failed.
Kenneth P. Thompson, the new Brooklyn DA, has convened a three-member panel. The panel will replace the controversial Hynes panel and will be reviewing dozens of Scarcella’s cases.
Meanwhile, The New York Times investigation also found that Scarcella used the same witness in a number of murder cases and at least six confessions he secured used the same verbiage: “You got it right. I was there.” In some cases, confessions did not match evidence. The New York Times investigation also revealed that inmate, Sundhe Moses, another man Scarcella investigated, hired lawyers who located a star witness who acknowledged that detectives coached him to lie. Moses was finally released by the Parole Board in December after serving 16 years for the murder of a 4-year-old girl.