Many of the questions in “DA’s Role in Rabbi’s 1990 Murder Case Under Scrutiny” (April 5) could have been answered by speaking to the attorney for David Ranta [who was freed recently for a wrongful conviction in the 1990 murder of a chasidic rabbi in Brooklyn] or reading the public documents.
The article’s analysis by Hella Winston is deeply flawed and dependent on demonstrably false assertions.
For example, both defense and prosecution note that Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) contacted several individuals who disavowed statements made over 20 years ago and cast substantial doubt on the one police effort to identify Joseph Astin as a suspect.
Among the many falsehoods and glaring omissions:
• There’s no input from defense attorney Pierre Sussman nor mention of his motion crediting CIU with revealing new evidence.
• Chaim Weinberger was disclosed to the defense by prosecutors and testified for them at trial, but his testimony that Ranta hadn’t attempted to rob him was undoubtedly hurt because jurors knew he’d already had the police detain two men with no involvement in the crime.
• The Appeals Court found the evidence of defendant’s guilt “overwhelming.”
• While evidence of the police investigation into Joseph Astin was disclosed at a post-conviction hearing, other than limited mention in one police report, the extent of that investigation was not revealed.
• Detective Louis Scarcella had Weinberger view Astin’s corpse, but made no notes and, though Weinberger didn’t identify Astin, testified there was “no gross disfigurement” to the corpse’s face. CIU showed the disfigurement was in fact extreme and supplied a morgue photo in support of the motion to vacate.
• The judge who heard Theresa Astin’s testimony rejected it as not credible. So did the federal judge who reviewed the finding who also found the evidence of Ranta’s guilt “compelling.”
• CIU obtained a photograph of Joseph Astin which, in comparison to Ranta’s lineup image, reveals a remarkable similarity. This was also submitted in support of the motion to vacate.
• CIU’s attempts to investigate the planning of the robbery literally led to a “dead end” when persons we sought to interview died.
In short, were it not for the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, Ranta would still be in jail.
Spokesman for Charles J. Hynes Reelection Committee