By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A Brooklyn man who spent more than 20 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit has agreed to a monetary settlement with the City of New York. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced last week that David Ranta will receive a settlement amount of $6.4 million.
“After a review process and negotiations, my office was able to reach a settlement with Mr. Ranta that is in the best interests of all parties and closes the door on a truly regrettable episode in our city’s history,” Stringer said in a released statement. “I am pleased that my office was able to move quickly to resolve this claim.”
The case against Ranta began Feb. 8, 1990, when a gunman botched an attempt to rob a diamond courier in Williamsburg. After the courier escaped unharmed, the man approached the car of Chaskel Werzberger — a Holocaust survivor and a leader of the Satmar Hasidic community — shot him in the forehead, pulled him out of the vehicle and drove away in it.
Though no physical evidence linked the unemployed drug addict to the crime, a jury found Ranta guilty in May 1991 based on witness testimony and circumstantial evidence.
The case against Ranta began to unravel after the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office launched a review by its newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) in 2011. The CIU also found gaps in police paperwork intended to document their investigation of the rabbi’s murder. And Ranta denied he knowingly signed police file folders with statements saying he'd helped plan the robbery.
Ranta "claimed he had signed a blank file folder ... only because he thought it was a form to allow him to make a phone call," court papers said. “There were a number of things wrong with the case,” admitted John O’Mara, the assistant district attorney on the Ranta case.
“This was a travesty from the beginning,” said Pierre Sussman, Ranta’s current attorney.
Officially declared a free man in March 2013 by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Miriam Cyrulnik, Ranta suffered a heart attack shortly after his release.
Ranta had intended to file claims against the city not only for wrongful conviction and the subsequent wrongful imprisonment, but also for malicious prosecution.
The malicious prosecution notice of claim asserts that prior to Ranta’s arrest in 1990, Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella “coached a key identification witness,” incentivized another witness to provide “false testimony,” suppressed evidence and lied under oath to ensure that Ranta was arrested and ultimately convicted of the Williamsburg murder.
Ranta sought $150 million in damages associated with the malicious prosecution claim.
It is unclear if the settlement announcement by Stringer for $6.4 million includes the malicious prosecution claim or if the $150 million suit stands separate. Ranta’s attorney, Sussman, could not be reached at press time for further clarification.