Former New York City detective, Louis Scarcella, is the focus of growing controversy in which he is being accused of putting more than a couple of men away for serious crimes for which they were later found to be innocent.
Most recently, David Ranta was released from prison after serving 23 years of a 37 Â½-year sentence and will be receiving $6.4 million from the City of New York. Ranta was allegedly framed by Scarcella, according to a recentThe New York Times report. Ranta filed a claim in 2013, which was rapidly settled by the New York City's comptroller's office, due in large part to the overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to Ranta's innocence and some unsavory actions on the part of Scarcella.
Ranta was convicted in 1991 of second-degree murder in the February 8, 1990 killing of Brooklyn, New York Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, CBS News reported. Scarcella was the lead detective in the case. Not Ranta, but another man fleeing from a failed jewelry store robbery shot the rabbi in the head and stole his car.
The prior Brooklyn District Attorney (DA), Charles J. Hynes, and his office long defended Ranta's conviction, fighting appeals and rejecting evidence implicating another killer. Then, a coerced witness came forward saying he "had uncertainty and discomfort" over his identification of Ranta in the rabbi's death. He told the Conviction Integrity Unit that Scarcella coached him and told him to "pick the one with the big nose" from the line-up, referring to Ranta. Investigators took notice and met with two other witnesses, both career criminals; both admitted to lying to implicate Ranta in exchange for what was described as a get-out-of-jail "excursion," provided by Scarcella.The New York Times report also indicated that prosecutors learned that Scarcella had been looking into an anonymous tip tying the murder to known robber, Joseph Astin. Scarcella questioned Astin's wife, but dropped that aspect of the investigation, never submitting related documents, when Astin died. Astin's wife later came forward to say that it was her husband, not Ranta, who killed the rabbi. Sadly, every legal attempt made to release Ranta based on Astin's wife's information failed.
After a year-long investigation by the Brooklyn DA's office, Ranta was released in March 2013. The DA's office discovered significant problems with witness testimony that revealed mishandling of parts of the investigation by the detectives involved, including now-retired Scarcella, according to The New York Times. Ranta's lawyer has said that he will pursue an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.
The case is strongly believed to be just one of numerous other wrongful conviction claims expected to be brought by men imprisoned over cases associated with Scarcella's defective and dubious detective work. Scarcella has been accused of engineering confessions, re-utilizing informers, and intimidating witnesses, The New York Timeswrote. In fact, the overturning of Ranta's conviction led to investigations into at least 12 other convictions tied to Scarcella, CBS News wrote. Meanwhile, Kenneth P. Thompson, the new Brooklyn DA, has convened a three-member panel to replace the prior panel and will be reviewing dozens of Scarcella's cases.
In related news following a different case, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has said he plans on filing legislation that will enable people wrongfully convicted of a crime to sue the State of New York, even if they helped "bring about" their own convictions, such as by confessing to a crime they did not commit, The New York Law Journal reported.
The so-called "Unjust Imprisonment Act" will amend the Court of Claims Act, which states that people are only able to sue for restitution if they are able to prove innocence and "did not by [their] own conduct cause or bring about ... conviction," according to The New York Law Journal. The proposed amended Court of Claims Act will address the "all too common" occurrence in which people are coerced into confessing to crimes they did not commit and then are unable to sue the state if they are exonerated at a later date. "It doubly victimizes people who acted out of fear, had a serious mental or psychological problem, or were simply too young to know better, that they admitted doing something they did not do," Schneiderman said. "A statute that allows some wrongfully convicted individuals to seek restitution but denies that legal right to others is an unjust and unequal application of the law.
On such example involves now-former inmate, Sundhe Moses, who spent 18 years imprisoned for the murder of 4-year-old Shamone Johnson in 1995. A key witness admitted on the stand that cops helped him to lie about the case. Also, said Moses, Scarcella beat him into confessing, according to The NY Daily News, which noted that this is one of 50 trial convictions on which Scarcella was involved and prosecutors have since reopened. Moses was finally released following an October 31 Parole Board decision that followed his lawyers documentation of significant issues in the former DA's case, according to The New York Daily News.
- The New York Times; Man Framed by Detective Will Get $6.4 Million From New York City After Serving 23 Years for Murder; by Frances Robles; February 20, 2014; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/nyregion/man-framed-by-new-york-detective-to-get-6-4-million-without-filing-suit.html
- The New York Daily News; After 18 Years in Hell, Sundhe Moses Finally Freed When Brooklyn Detective's Case Comes Undone; by Kerry Burke and Bill Hutchinson; December 4, 2013
- The New York Law Journal; Wrongfully Convicted Get Support From AG's Proposed Bill; by Joel Stashenko; February 20, 2014
- CBS News; Man Did 23 Years for NYC Murder He Didn't Commit, Gets $6.4 M; by CrimeSider Staff CBS/AP; February 21, 2014; http://www.cbsnews.com/news/man-did-23-years-for-nyc-murder-he-didnt-commit-gets-64m/