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Judge Frees Man Convicted In Rabbi's 1990 Murder

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A Brooklyn man who served more than 20 years in prison for the murder of a rabbi he says he did not commit was released from the remainder of his sentence Thursday afternoon.

David Ranta's sentence was vacated in a Brooklyn court after prosecutors say he was wrongly convicted of the killing of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger in 1990.

He was originally sentenced to 37 years for the crime.

Ranta lost his previous appeals.

"As I said from the beginning, I had nothing to do with this case," Ranta said to reporters outside the courtroom. "If you're interested, there'll be as much paperwork as you'd like to read on this case and make your own decisions."

Ranta lost both his parents the year after his incarceration began.

At the time of his incarceration, Ranta's daughter was two years old. She's now a grown woman.

At the request of Ranta's trial lawyer, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office said its conviction integrity unit found evidence that, if available at the time of the original trial, may not have caused jurors to convict him of murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

"There was new evidence which was developed, which caused us to believe that the foundation of the case has been so degraded that we can no longer be confident that a jury would render a verdict of guilty of this defendant, nor that we are confident that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," said Assistant District Attorney John O'Mara.


Werzberger was shot in the head during a botched robbery and died four days later.

His death sparked outrage in the tight-knit Orthodox community, and thousands attended his funeral.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said his new investigation found that detectives got to Ranta through people in jail looking to secure deals for their own crimes.

A diamond courier, the person who was the initial target for being robbed, always testified that Ranta was not the person who tried to rob him.

Another man said he was told by police during the original lineup to pick the guy with the big nose. They say he only picked Ranta again in court because that's what he says he was told during the lineup.

"Who's responsible for this botch up?" said Isaac Abraham, a spokesperson for the Satmar community. "The detectives who investigated this case? The prosecutor? How many people knew about this?"

The DA's office says they are not willing to say Ranta was framed.

"I obviously wasn't involved in all those decisions," O'Mara said. "They were making their decisions based on a different assessment of the evidence that was available. So I certainly can't go back now and say, 'well, had we known this then, we would not have acted the way that we did.' But I can't place myself in their shoes."

Louis Scarcella, the lead detective on the case, maintains he did a solid job.

"I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "I stand by my investigation, and I don't know what else to tell you."

During an appeal in 1994, a woman testified that her husband admitted that he killed the rabbi. That man, Joseph Astin, died a short time after the killing.

Meanwhile, friends of the slain rabbi are now calling for the detectives originally assigned to the case be held accountable.

They say they're also concerned about the possibility that the real killer could still be roaming the streets.

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