New York Detective Helped Convict the Innocent


c37aNew York Detective Helped Convict the Innocent

This officer’s work apparently involved railroading the innocent with the full cooperation of a number of prosecutors in more than fifty cases.
I hope you have the opportunity to work in a prosecutor’s office. I believe in justice but prosecutorial discretion is too broad and the desire not for justice but for a good “kill” ratio often outranks justice as a priority in some of these offices.
Here is an important quote from the article:

“The prosecutor’s duty to the truth arises from several sources,” Gershman wrote. “The most important source is the prosecutor’s role as a minister of justice. In this role, the prosecutor has the overriding responsibility not simply to convict the guilty but to protect the innocent. The duty to truth also derives from the prosecutor’s constitutional obligation not to use false evidence or to suppress material evidence favorable to the defendant. The duty to truth also arises from various ethical strictures that require prosecutors to have confidence in the truth of the evidence before bringing or maintaining criminal charges. The duty is found as well in the prosecutor’s domination of the criminal justice system and his virtual monopoly of the fact-finding process.”

This quote parallels my views on the subject. Justice is not equal to God but stands high in its importance to morality and a life worth living.

Please read the full article.

James Pilant

From around the web:

From the web site, TOT Private Consulting –

The NYPD detective whose corner-cutting investigative work, combined with a community’s blood lust for quick justice, put an apparently innocent man in prison for 23 years insists he’s being scapegoated by the very district attorney who pushed for the conviction.
“They threw me under the bus,” Louis Scarcella told The Post yesterday after DA Charles Hynes indicated he’d asked a judge to vacate David Ranta’s conviction, more than two decades after Ranta was found guilty of murdering a prominent rabbi in Williamsburg.

“I was appalled when I got the news,” the retired cop said outside his Staten Island home. “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.”

While Scarcella was sleeping, Ranta, 58, was languishing in a Buffalo prison, convicted of the February 1990 murder of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger after a botched jewelry heist in the Orthodox Jewish community.
From the web site, General Strike –

An ‘overwhelmed’ David Ranta left prison with a small bag of belongings and  family members ecstatic to see him outside of his cell. His conviction began to  fall apart when it was revealed that case detectives used questionable tactics  in his case, including coaching witnesses.

An innocent man was sprung from prison Thursday — more than 20 years after he  was wrongfully convicted of killing a beloved Brooklyn rabbi.

David Ranta, 58, could barely contain his excitement, smiling broadly at  relatives who hadn’t seen him as a free man since his 1991 conviction. Ranta was  found guilty of shooting Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger in a botched jewelry heist in  Williamsburg.

The conviction crumbled after a year-long investigation revealed case  detectives coached witnesses, did not keep notes and gave incentives to felons  who provided information.

And from the web site, From the Trenches –

Heyward is not alone in his suspicion of foul play in Hynes executions of justice. The DA has recently come under great scrutiny for spending years refusing to review convictions that he and his predecessor obtained through working with a homicide detective of such dubious repute. Last week, the Hynes office was forced to reopen 50 cases in which NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella was involved, after the Times uncovered that he obtained false confessions, lied, and relied on testimony from a single, crack-addicted prostitute to obtain a number of convictions. While families of those convicted through Scarlla’s police plan to start bird-dogging Hynes, others, like Heyward, have vowed to win justice for those they will never see again.

“It doesn’t matter how long I have to be out here fighting and exposing the reality of what happened. I’m going to keep at it,” said Heyward who believes there is a clear conflict of interest between New York City’s DAs and the NYPD since they are both on the same side of the law. “When cops are involved, it’s like district attorneys forget how to prosecute.”

“I’m overwhelmed,” Ranta said outside a courtroom in downtown Brooklyn,  carrying a purple laundry bag with all his belongings. “Right now, I feel like  I’m underwater, swimming.”

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Why Wrongful Convictions?


American Violence
American Violence

Why Wrongful Convictions?

Study Explores Why Wrongful Convictions Happen | ThinkProgress

In the almost 25 years since post-conviction DNA evidence has been used to establish criminal innocence, public perception has been transformed by the realization that completely erroneous convictions are not uncommon, even in cases that land defendants on death row or in prison for life. A new exhaustive social science analysis of many of these exonerations since 1989 has identified ten primary factors that, together, have led to the convictions we now know were wrong.

The study by American University’s School of Public Affairs concludes that it is a confluence of circumstances – and the ultimate failure of prosecutors and/or defense attorneys to mitigate those circumstances – that makes the difference between a “near-miss” in which a person is indicted but never found guilty, and a wrongful conviction.

Some of the worst wrongful conviction cases have been linked to what is known as “tunnel vision,” in which a prosecutor who hones in one suspect has a tendency to reinforce beliefs of that suspect’s guilt, even when the evidence suggests otherwise.

Study Explores Why Wrongful Convictions Happen | ThinkProgress

From around the web –

From the web site, The Wrongful Convictions Blog: (A very strong blog with good writers.)

According to a report in the Coloradoan (here), on Saturday Lt. Jim Broderick, 56, resigned from the Fort Collins (Colorado) Police Services where he had worked for 33 years. His career had a dramatic reversal when he was indicted on charges of felony perjury in June 2010 in connection with the grand jury indictment and trial of Tim Masters. Masters, who was fifteen at the time of the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick, was convicted and spent ten years in prison before DNA testing of crime scene evidence prompted the vacation of his murder conviction. Broderick had been the investigator in the case.

The National Registry of Exonerations’ report on the case (here) lists the cause of this wrongful conviction as perjury or false accusation and official misconduct. Prosecutors allegedly failed to turn over evidence to the defense and Broderick allegedly lied to the grand jury to help secure the indictment against Masters.

From the web site, Pennsylvania Innocence Project:

Gould believes the paths to wrongful convictions begin in the interrogation room and suggests police make checklists and be proactive with forensic testing. Several of these factors are obviously discriminatory such as the defendant’s age and criminal background.

Regrettably, this discrimination happens on a reoccurring basis and no one should have to be penalized for a crime they didn’t commit whether it is due to their past, perjury, or the hidden motives of a legal team. At the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, we are incessantly working to prevent and bring attention to these transgressions within the legal system.

From the web site, Humans in Shadow:

In 1991, an unemployed printer named David Ranta was convicted of killing a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn.

Last week, Ranta was released from the maximum-security prison in which he’d spent nearly 22 years, after almost every piece of evidence used to convict him fell away. The New York Times reported [1] that the lead detectives on the case “broke rule after rule” — they “kept few written records, coached a witness and took Mr. Ranta’s confession under what a judge described as highly dubious circumstances.”

Last Friday, just a day after he was released, Ranta suffered a serious heart attack [2].



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Prosecutorial Failure?

Prosecutorial Failure?

Ken Anderson’s Testimony Caps Dramatic Inquiry | The Texas Tribune

Defiant, angry and frustrated, former prosecutor Ken Anderson took the stand on Friday to defend himself, ending a week of dramatic testimony in an unusual court of inquiry that is examining whether the former district attorney committed criminal misconduct during the trial that led to the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton.

Morton was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for his wife’s murder, and he spent nearly 25 years behind bars before DNA evidence led to his exoneration in 2011. Lawyers for the exoneree contend that Anderson deliberately withheld critical evidence that could have prevented Morton’s wrongful conviction. Anderson adamantly denied any wrongdoing, and in his often impassioned testimony criticized the court of inquiry.

Ken Anderson’s Testimony Caps Dramatic Inquiry | The Texas Tribune

Ken Anderson is answering some tough questions in a Texas court. He needs tough questioning. He prosecuted an innocent man while allowing the guilty party to continue his crimes.

Overzealous prosecution is not justice. It’s collecting prosecutorial kills for career purposes and is particularly villanous because many defendants have only limited resources to defend themselves from charges. A prosecutor’s discretion is one of the defenses the innocent have.

James Pilant

Over Zealous Prosecution?
Over Zealous Prosecution?

From around the web –

From the web site, Ethics Alarms:

I don’t know whether Anderson intentionally withheld evidence in the process of prosecuting Michael Morton, because he thought Morton was guilty, whether he just made a series of mistakes, or whether, as he says, the system failed. I do know that he is ethically obligated to step down as a judge. His credibility, fairness, competence, commitment to justice, integrity and trustworthiness have all been called into question by the inquiry, as well as the unavoidable fact that he prosecuted an innocent man who went to prison for a quarter of a century, and while he was there, the real murderer may have killed again. The justice system cannot have a judge ruling on people’s lives who has something like that on his record and conscience. I wouldn’t want my fate to rest with such a judge, and as a lawyer, I wouldn’t want my client’s fate to be determined by such a judge either.

From the web site, The Irreverent Lawyer:

As though more corroboration was necessary, there’s the case of Michael Morton, the former grocery store clerk who served almost a quarter century’s worth of a life sentence. The truth will yet out but as of now, it appears Morton should have never been convicted had a prominent prosecutor and now county judge, Ken Anderson, and then prosecutor Mike Davis, now a private practice lawyer, and current District Attorney John Bradley shared potentially exculpatory evidence with the defense – – – as required under Brady v. Maryland 373 U. S. 83.

And finally, from the web site, Lawdiva’s Blog:

We know that in the last ten years, 45 Texas inmates have been exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence and that is something to be grateful for. The notion of innocent men and women being held in confinement for crimes they did not commit is excruciating.

Another inmate joined the ranks of those freed from a Texas jail last week. Michael Morton was convicted of murdering his wife Christine in 1986. He was a grocery store manager who had no criminal record, nonetheless, he was found guilty of beating his wife to death and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2005 Mr. Morton attempted to have evidence tested to determine if DNA was present, namely a blue bandanna found near his home after the murder. For six years the district attorney fought Morton’s attempts based on the advice of the original prosecutor, Ken Anderson, who was now Judge Anderson.

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Stealing Babies is Okay if it’s from the “Wrong” Kind of Family

Francisco Franco’s regime in Spain in cooperation with the Catholic Church took as many as 300,000 children from their parents and gave them to “suitable” families.

What did they mean by suitable? They meant fascist, government supporters.

From Time magazine –

There appear to be two distinct phases of baby theft that occurred in Spain during the 20th century. The first, which was not only approved by dictator Francisco Franco but also promoted by his government as a means of “improving” the Spanish “race,” was politically inspired. In the years after Franco won Spain’s civil war, he had tens of thousands of former Republicans and other dissidents arrested. The small children of imprisoned women dissidents were sent first to state-run centers or convents, and then reassigned to families whose values better coincided with the regime’s. “The state considered these children in need of re-education,” says University of Barcelona historian Ricard Vinyes, who has written a book on the subject. “It was actually proud of these efforts and would publish the results of how many children had been ‘welcomed’ annually.”

From later in the Time article

Economic and, it seems, spiritual. Many of the women who believe their children were stolen were unmarried at the time, a shocking breach of social norms during the strict years of the Catholic Franco regime. Journalist Natalia Junquera has been investigating the cases for a series that the national newspaper El País is publishing this month. “From what I’ve seen, the most important motive was ideological,” she says. “Nuns and priests who simply decided that the child would be better off with families they trusted than with the ones to which they had been born.” The thefts are believed to have continued into the early 1980s.

And here is more from the British newspaper, the Guardian

The practice started under the Franco regime as a form of social engineering, with babies taken away from known supporters of the left and given to card-carrying fascists, and then was expanded by the church into a moral crusade to remove babies from sinful unmarried mothers and place them with those more worthy in the sight of God. The scale of the operation was breathtaking, with doctors and nuns keeping a stash of frozen, long-dead babies in the morgue to be wheeled out to convince parents that their child, who had been in good health only a few hours earlier, had died. And all over Spain there are countless children’s graves in which coffins containing nothing more than a few stones lie buried.

You could see why the government and the church are so keen for this story to go away; it’s inconceivable that such a massive operation could have continued for so long without the blessing of some at the top of these organisations. As so often, though, it was the individual stories that were the most remarkable: such as Antonio, who discovered he had been been adopted when his father made a deathbed confession; his whole life rewritten in an instant, with little prospect of ever knowing his real identity. Then there was Manoli and her daughter Mar. Manoli had long suspected her son had not died at birth but had been sold for adoption instead, and Mar had become convinced that Randy, an American who was searching for his Spanish family, was her brother. He wasn’t. The DNA test proved negative and three people whose lives had already been broken by both church and state were left just that little bit more broken.

Here’s a 25 minute documentary from Journeyman Pictures – Just click on the title to see the film:

Baby Market – Spain

Here are some more articles –

France 24

Global Post’s – Spain’s stolen baby scandal

New York Times – Spain Confronts Decades of Pain Over Lost Babies

NewsType – Catholic Church stole Spanish babies, resold them

I would like to have said more about this but frankly I’m awed. Generally speaking this kind of organized evil perpetrated with church support and it had to be from the highest echelons is hard for me to contemplate. What kind of world do we live in where people like these believe that they are practicing Christianity?

James Pilant




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