A man jailed for 21 years for the murder of a prominent Satmar rabbi might not actually be guilty, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
David Ranta, sentenced to 37.5 years in a maximum-security prison in May 1991 for the violent murder of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, may be released as early as Thursday, the report added.
Werzberger, an Auschwitz survivor, was shot in the head on February 8, 1990, as an innocent bystander to an ongoing robbery. Faced with the outrage of the Satmar community in Williamsburg, authorities felt extra pressure to find the killer, the Times reported.
But in the decades since Ranta’s conviction, The New York Times wrote, “nearly every piece of evidence in this case has fallen away.” A number of witnesses disclosed that they had lied on instructions from detectives, or to protect their own interests.
Detective Louis Scarcella and his partner, Stephen Chmil, the Times added, “broke rule after rule” according to legal documents and reports from the trial.
According to one investigator, the detectives allowed two dangerous criminals to “leave jail, smoke crack cocaine and visit with prostitutes in exchange for incriminating Mr. Ranta,” the report stated.
One key witness in the case said that one detective had told him who to identify in a lineup. Another crucial to the case — a convicted rapist — revealed that he had named Ranta in order to cut a deal.
Ranta, now 58, release may come about, in large part thanks to an investigation conducted by his lawyer, Pierre Sussman. Asked by The New York Times how he survived in prison, he answered he wasn’t sure he really had.
“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,” he said. “I came in here as a 30-something with kids, a mother who was alive. This case killed my whole life.”