Innocent Man Freed 23 Years After Murder of Hasidic Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger

Real Killer May Never Be Found in Notorious Brooklyn Slay

By Reuters

Published March 22, 2013.
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Ranta is the third defendant freed as a result of the conviction integrity unit, which currently is examining 14 other cases, mostly homicides.

It began looking into the Ranta case after Hynes spoke about the unit to a gathering of defense lawyers, including Michael Baum, the lawyer who represented Ranta at trial. Baum asked the office to examine Ranta’s case.

Investigators soon found that a key witness, a teenager named Menachem Lieberman who picked Ranta out of a lineup, had since recanted. He said he did not recognize Ranta but selected him after a detective told him to “pick the guy with the big nose.”

A jail house snitch and his girlfriend, both of whom fingered Ranta as the shooter, also admitted to prosecutors that they made up their story to secure a favorable plea deal.

Ranta had long argued that the case against him was troubled, but he failed in two appeals, with prosecutors opposed to his motion in both instances.

Chaim Weinberger, the courier who was the target of the failed robbery, had testified at Ranta’s trial that Ranta was not the man who tried to steal his gemstones. In 1995, at a hearing to consider one of Ranta’s appeals, Theresa Astin testified that her husband, Joseph Astin, had committed the murder.

Astin died in April 1990, two months after the crime occurred. Nevertheless, the evidence against Ranta was deemed sufficient until prosecutors reopened the case last year.

“As soon as we reached that conclusion, there was no point in keeping David Ranta in jail another day,” Hynes said.

At Ranta’s brief court appearance on Thursday, Cyrulnik apologized to Ranta for his years in prison.

“Mr. Ranta, to say that I’m sorry for what you have endured would be an understatement and grossly inadequate, but I say it to you anyway,” the judge said.

As he left the courthouse, Ranta carried a purple mesh bag with the belongings he had gathered from his prison cell only hours earlier. Asked whether there was anything he wanted to do now that he was free, he smiled and said, “Yeah. Get the hell out of here, maybe.”


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