Officials: Ranta innocent in Chaskel Werzberger murder

Satmar ultra-Orthodox Jewish men congregate in Brooklyn in 2011 Werzberger was part of the Satmar Jewish group, members of which are shown at a 2011 gathering

New York City prosecutors have asked a court to release a man they now say was unjustly convicted of murdering a rabbi more than two decades ago.

David Ranta was imprisoned for the 1990 murder of Holocaust survivor Chaskel Werzberger in a botched robbery.

Prosecutors say they lack sufficient evidence Ranta shot him in the head, and the New York Times has reported detectives mishandled the case.

Ranta, now 58, is due to appear before a judge on Thursday.

'Killed my life'

Prosecutors said in court papers on Wednesday that they "no longer have sufficient evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt".

Start Quote

For this to happen 23 years later is mind-boggling”

End Quote Isaac Abraham Jewish community leader

Ranta could be freed as soon as Thursday and has been told to clear his cell in a maximum security prison, the New York Times reported.

"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,'" Ranta said in a prison interview with the newspaper.

"I came in here as a 30-something with kids, a mother who was alive. This case killed my whole life."

The murder of Rabbi Werzberger during a botched attempt to rob another man of a suitcase full of diamonds sparked outrage in New York's close-knit and politically powerful community of Satmar Hasidic Jews.

Thousands of mourners attended his funeral and then-Mayor David Dinkins offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Ranta, who was unemployed and addicted to drugs, was convicted in 1991 and sentenced to 37 years in prison.

According to an investigation by the New York Times, detectives in the case kept inadequate records, coached a witness, and wrote down Ranta's confession in circumstances that the trial judge found troubling.

No physical evidence connected Ranta to the killing, and after his conviction several witnesses recanted their testimony, the newspaper reported.

Prosecutors in New York City's Brooklyn borough began re-examining the case after District Attorney Charles Hynes formed a task force to investigate possible false convictions.

The lead detective in the case, Louis Scarcella, has defended the investigation, saying he never framed anyone.

Relatives of the victim have said they are shocked by the development and still believe Ranta was involved in the crime.

"For this to happen 23 years later is mind-boggling," community leader Isaac Abraham told the Associated Press.

"He can only claim he wasn't the shooter but he can never claim he wasn't involved."

More on This Story

More US & Canada stories


Features & Analysis

  • Dana Lone HillDana Lone Hill

    The Native American names that break Facebook rules

  • Painting from Rothschild collectionDark arts Watch

    The 50-year fight to recover paintings looted by the Nazis

  • Mukesh SinghNo remorse

    Delhi bus rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back

  • Signposts showing the US and UK flagsAn ocean apart

    How British misunderstanding of the US is growing

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • StudentsBull market

    Employers are snapping up students with this desirable degree


  • Former al-Qaeda double agent Aimen DeanHARDtalk Watch

    Islamic State is about revenge says former al-Qaeda member turned spy Aimen Dean

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.