A New York man convicted of killing a Hasidic rabbi more than two decades ago was freed on Thursday after his conviction was vacated as a miscarriage of justice.
David Ranta, 58, spent 23 years in prison until the conviction integrity unit of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office concluded after a year-long investigation that the case against him was fatally flawed.
“Sir, you are free to go,” acting state Supreme Court Justice Miriam Cyrulnik told Ranta at a Brooklyn courthouse as relatives, including his daughter who was an infant when he was jailed, erupted in tears and shouts of joy.
Prosecutors had joined Ranta’s defense attorney, Pierre Sussman, in asking Cyrulnik to vacate Ranta’s conviction “in the interest of justice.”
“The evidence no longer establishes the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Assistant District Attorney John O’Mara, the chief of the conviction integrity unit.
Ranta was found guilty of killing Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger on Feb. 8, 1990, and stealing his car in an effort to flee following an unsuccessful attempt to rob a diamond courier. The crime rattled the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn and prompted calls for swift justice.
“As I said from the beginning, I had nothing to do with this case,” Ranta told reporters following the hearing.
The case is the latest in a string of wrongful convictions that have gained media attention in recent months, creating a headache for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who faces a rare primary challenge in September as he seeks a seventh four-year term.
On Wednesday, a federal judge blocked Hynes’s office from retrying a man, William Lopez, whose 1989 murder conviction was overturned earlier this year after questions arose about witness accounts.
In 2010, a federal judge freed another man, Jabbar Collins, after he spent 16 years in prison for allegedly shooting his landlord. U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry concluded that Brooklyn prosecutors had relied on false testimony and threatened a witness and faulted Hynes’s office for continuing to deny any wrongdoing.
In an interview on Thursday, Hynes defended his office’s record and said he created the conviction integrity unit in 2011 to investigate legitimate claims of innocence.
“It’s a very, very difficult thing to know that someone is in jail who should not be in jail,” he said.