Fifty homicide convictions are now under review in New York after retired police officer, Louis Scarcella, was accused of intimidating suspects into making confessions.
It all began when David Ranta’s murder conviction was overturned in March. Ranta spent 23 years in prison for the 1991 fatal shooting of Hasidic rabbi Chaskel Werzberger in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
“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 in court. “Sir, you are a free man.”
The lead detective on Ranta’s case was Scarcella. A witness, who was 13 years old at the time of the murder, testified in Brooklyn Supreme Court that Scarcella told him to pick out Ranta from a lineup.
Scarcella, 61, stood by his work in the Ranta case, but the Brooklyn district attorney questioned his methods.
Scarcella served on the Brooklyn North Homicide Squad through the 1980s and 1990s. He had a "reputation for eliciting confessions when no other detective could." The New York Times reported the language in those confessions is unusually similar. At least four of the confessions begin with “you got it right” or “I was there.” The confession that Ranta says he never wrote also began with “I was there.”
“It’s sort of beyond belief that it would be coincidental,” Steven Banks told the New York Times. Banks is the chief attorney for the Legal Aid Society, which is reviewing 20 of Scarcella’s cases.
“It’s hard to imagine all five people used the same exact words,” said Richard Leo, a confessions specialist and law professor and University of San Francisco. “It almost sounds like a template.”
There were other patterns in the detective’s methods. In at least six different, unconnected murder trials, Scarcella provided evidence from Teresa Gomez, who was a prostitute and drug addict. Gomez has since died, but one prosecutor told Gothamist, “It was a near folly to even think that anyone would believe Gomez about anything.”
The Conviction and Integrity Unit of the Brooklyn DA’s office will not release the names of the 50 convicted murders under review. Jabbar Washington, whose 1995 confession read “You got it right. I was there,” testified during his trial that Scarcella grabbed him by the neck and testicles to get him to sign the confession, the Times reported.
“He always said the cop fed him what to say,” said attorney Mark Pollard, who represented Washington at the time.
After Ranta was released, Scarcella appeared on "Dr. Phil" claiming he would never frame someone.
“They threw me under the bus,” he said. “I was appalled when I got the news. I stand by the confession 100 percent. I never framed anyone in my life. You have to be a low devil to frame someone. I sleep well at night.”
He also defended his investigation in a March interview with the Brad Hamilton of the New York Post.
“David is guilty of felony murder,” he said. “He is not this innocent guy. He confessed. And he knows he gave me that statement.”