Acknowleding that its case had been "significantly eroded," the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office yesterday moved to drop the indictment against a man who spent some 23 years in prison after his conviction for murdering a prominent rabbi.
In 1991, David Ranta was convicted for the shooting death of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger in a botched diamond heist, a crime that caught media attention for its cold-bloodedness and which incensed the local Satmar community.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Miriam Cyrulnik in Brooklyn (See Profile) signed an order yesterday to have Ranta, now 58, brought from the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden to her courtroom for proceedings after which, in all likelihood, he will be set free.
Ranta, who is serving a 37 1/2-year-to-life sentence, has maintained his innocence, but his appeals and post-conviction challenges over the years proved unsuccessful until now.
In December 2011, Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, at a meeting promoting his newly established Conviction Integrity Unit, asked if anyone could suggest cases for the unit to review.
Ranta's attorney at the 1991 trial, Michael Baum, now with Brooklyn Defender Services, brought up Ranta's case because he had received new information about a witness' "discomfort" with his identification of Ranta as the perpetrator.
"It was hope beyond hope," Baum said yesterday, but "it started the ball rolling."
The request sparked a nearly year-long review by the Conviction Integrity Unit, which turned up information about fabricated statements and improper police work.
In papers filed yesterday by Assistant District Attorney John O'Mara, the head of the unit, the district attorney's office joined in a defense motion to vacate the conviction. Further, O'Mara wrote that if the motion was granted, the district attorney would move to dismiss the indictment "as the People no longer have sufficient evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
"Given the cumulative effect [of previously developed evidence and new revelations], the evidentiary foundation upon which the jury relied in delivering its verdict in this case has been significantly eroded. It is, therefore, the People's position that, had the new evidence been available at the time of the trial, it would have created a probability that the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant," O'Mara wrote in People v. Ranta, 8990/90.