Rabbi’s convicted killer goes free after new probe casts doubt on evidence

NEW YORK (JTA) — Relatives of a murdered Brooklyn rabbi reportedly are shocked after the convicted killer was freed following a new probe of the case cast doubt on the evidence.

David Ranta, 58, was freed Thursday by a New York State court judge in Brooklyn. Ranta, who had been in imprisoned in Buffalo, had claimed he was wrongly convicted in the 1990 killing of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, a Holocaust survivor and leader of the Satmar hasidic community.

Prosecutors had told the judge in paperwork that they would support a defense motion to vacate the conviction and ask for a dismissal of the indictment. After a review by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office Conviction Integrity Unit, the prosecutors said, they "no longer have sufficient evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," The Associated Press reported.

Witnesses recanted and evidence suggests another man who died in a car accident months after the shooting was the shooter.

But Isaac Abraham, a close friend to the Werzberger family, said the family believes there is still credible evidence that Ranta participated in the crime.

"For this to happen 23 years later is mind boggling," Abraham said, according to AP. "He can only claim he wasn’t the shooter, but he can never claim he wasn’t involved."

The case dated to Feb. 8, 1990, and a botched robbery attempt of a diamond courier in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. After the courier escaped unharmed, the gunman approached Werzberger’s car, shot him in the forehead, pulled him out of the vehicle and drove away in it.

No physical evidence linked Ranta, an unemployed drug addict, to the crime. A jury found Ranta guilty in May 1991 based on witness testimony and circumstantial evidence. He was sentenced to 37 1/2 years in prison.

Leaving the court on Thursday, Ranta said, "I’m overwhelmed. I feel like I’m under water, swimming," AP reported. "Like I said from the beginning, I had nothing to do with this case."

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