A man whose murder conviction was overturned after he served 22 years in prison will receive a $6.4 million settlement from New York City, according to attorneys on the case.
David Ranta, 60, who was imprisoned for the killing of a Brooklyn rabbi in 1990, was granted the settlement this week before his claim against the city was even filed in federal court, his attorney Pierre Sussman said Thursday.
New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer settled the pre-litigation claim for wrongful conviction and imprisonment in response to a $150 million claim that Ranta filed last year, according to a statement from his office.
"After a review process and negotiations, my office was able to reach a settlement with Mr. Ranta that is in the best interests of all parties and closes the door on a truly regrettable episode in our City's history," Stringer said in a prepared statement.
According to New York City law, the comptroller has the authority to settle claims against the city, the statement said.
"It is such a significant case," said Sussman, who said he believes the quick settlement is a testament to the weakness of the city's defense against the suit.
"This is the first time in an exoneration case that a settlement has been reached without the claim making it to the city's law department," he added.
Sussman said Ranta still plans a lawsuit against the state.
Ranta was freed from prison in March 2013 but suffered a heart attacked the day after his release. His attorney said Ranta looks forward to the stability the settlement will provide as he continues to get medical treatment for his heart condition.
Ranta's second-degree murder conviction stemmed from the 1990 killing of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger during a diamond heist. A witness two decades later came forward and said he had been coached to identify Ranta from a police lineup. After an investigation, prosecutors recommended that Ranta's conviction be tossed out.
Since Ranta's trial, another man's widow has identified her now-dead husband as the killer; a onetime jail inmate has said he made up statements about Ranta to boost his own fortunes; and the man who, as a boy, picked him out of a lineup has come forward to say a detective coached him.
Prosecutors have determined the evidence underpinning Ranta's conviction "has been degraded to such an extent" that it would no longer support the verdict, John O'Mara, the deputy district attorney in charge of Brooklyn's conviction integrity unit, said in March 2013.
When detectives questioned him, Ranta initially denied any involvement in the killing, but he then acknowledged knowing Alan Bloom, a man facing trial on his own robbery charges who gave Ranta's name to police, according to prosecutors. He later admitted he had been near the scene of the crime and that he knew his friends had planned a holdup. Then he admitted he had been involved in planning the diamond heist, acted as the lookout and had seen Bloom and another jailed witness, Dmitry Drikman, with a gun.
Ranta insists that he was framed by police and that detectives coached the witnesses against him.
"No way that happened," said Louis Scarcella, one of the detectives who investigated the case. He told CNN last year that Ranta admitted his involvement in the heist attempt and that he stands by the arrest.
Upon Ranta's exoneration in March 2013, his attorney told CNN, "The detective work that was done on this case was at best shoddy and at worst criminal. And I don't use that word lightly. But when a closer examination is done of the detective work ... it becomes clear that there were so many leads that weren't followed, there were so many notes that weren't taken and just a general lack of attention to an investigation that required nothing but close scrutiny of the scene, of witnesses and so forth. That didn't happen."
About 50 cases in the District Attorney's Criminal Investigation Unit handled by Scarcella came under review after Ranta's second-degree murder conviction was tossed out. Scarcella retired from the New York Police Department before the investigations began.