NEW YORK (TIP): In the wintry darkness 23 years ago on a back street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a jewellry thief fleeing a botched robbery panicked and shot a Hasidic rabbi in the head. Four days later, the rabbi, Chaskel Werzberger, an Auschwitz survivor, died of his wounds. Even in the New York City of 1990, as homicides crested at 2,245, the murder stirred grief and outrage. The “Slain Rabbi” was front-page tabloid news. Mayor David N Dinkins travelled to Williamsburg’s Satmar enclave to sit in mourning and to offer a $10,000 reward.
The new Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J Hyne, vowed to bring the killer to justice. Forty detectives worked the case, soon led by the swaggering, cigar-chewing Detective Louis Scarcella. Working closely with an influential Satmar rabbi, Detective Scarcella arrested a drugaddicted, unemployed printer named David Ranta.
Ranta was convicted in May 1991 and sentenced to 37.5 years in maximum-security prison, where he remains to this day. He is almost certainly not guilty. This week Hynes, after a long investigation by a unit that he created to look into questionable convictions, plans to ask a state judge to release the prisoner. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, who conducted his own inquiry, said his client has been instructed to pack up his cell.