NEW YORK CITY — A man who was wrongfully convicted in the murder of a Williamsburg rabbi was released from custody Thursday after 23 years behind bars.
David Ranta, 58, walked out of Brooklyn Supreme Court after prosecutors vacated his conviction for the 1990 slaying of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger.
"To say that I'm sorry for what you have endured will be an understatement and grossly inadequate, but I say it to you anyway," Supreme Court Justice Miriam Cyrulnik told Ranta, according to reports. "Sir, you are a free man."
Werzberger was killed on Feb. 8, 1990 by a suspect fleeing an aborted robbery of a diamond courier. A jury found Ranta guilty based on witness testimony and circumstantial evidence, according to reports. He was convicted in 1991 and sentenced to 37 years in prison.
An investigation by The New York Times revealed that detectives in the case kept inadequate records, instructed a key witness to select Ranta in a lineup and wrote down his confession under what a judge described as "highly dubious circumstances." No physical evidence linked Ranta to the murder and multiple witnesses recanted their testimony, the Times reported.
In 2011, Ranta's case was reviewed by a new unit of the Brooklyn District Attorney's office that examines cases of possible wrongful convictions. Attorney Michael Baum of Brooklyn Defender Services referred Ranta's case to John O'Mara, the executive assistant district attorney in charge of the unit.
O'Mara concluded that "the foundation upon which Mr. Ranta’s conviction was based had been eroded and that no remaining evidence could lead to Mr. Ranta's conviction," according to a statement Thursday from the DA's office.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes said it was the third case of exoneration found by O'Mara since the Conviction Integrity Unit was created in April 2011.