David Ranta spent 22 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit — and now the Brooklyn dad is struggling to adapt to the fast-paced world of 2013.
“I feel like I’ve been dropped onto another planet — everything has changed, and everything that I’ve known is gone,’’ said Ranta, 58, who will file a notice of claim today of his $150 million lawsuit against the city.
BIG ERROR: David Ranta is led away in handcuffs after his false arrest for a rabbi’s murder in 1990.
“The first time I ate at a restaurant and used their restroom, I couldn’t figure out how to use the sink; it was one of those automatic motion-sensor faucets,’’ Ranta told The Post. “I had to get someone to show me what to do, and I felt embarrassed.”
Ranta, who was convicted of killing a prominent rabbi when cops convinced witnesses to make a false identification, said he has had trouble adjusting to life on the outside.
“To tell you the truth, mentally I still fell like I’m in prison,’’ he said. “You can’t just flip a switch and say, ‘Hey, you’re free; go enjoy the time you have left.’ ”
NIGHTMARE: David Ranta (right, yesterday), who was falsely convicted of killing Brooklyn Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger (left), is now struggling to adjust to life outside prison.
Ranta was arrested for allegedly gunning down Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger on Aug. 8, 1990. He was convicted in 1991 and sentenced to 37 years.
Werzberger was shot in the head during a botched robbery of a jewelry courier in Williamsburg, and several witnesses, including the courier, initially fingered Ranta as the shooter.
Ranta, an out-of-work painter, fit the description — a tall, blond man. But there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime.
After his conviction, Ranta tried several times to appeal, to no avail.
His attempts to clear his name included a 1996 hearing during which a woman said her late, coke-addled husband, a known stick-up artist, had killed Werzberger.
But lead detective Louis Scarcella — who knew the husband, Joseph Astin, and even admitted that he had been a prime suspect — never showed Astin’s photo to witnesses. Still, the judge sided with prosecutors during the hearing and dismissed Ranta’s claim.
The break for Ranta came in 2011, when Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes put Ranta’s case before a special review panel. Too many witnesses were recanting on their own.
The courier said cops told him to pick Ranta out of a lineup. Other witnesses admitted that they were either coached or told to lie by NYPD cops.
Other damning details of the shoddy investigation surfaced, too, including that Scarcella never took notes during what he said was a confession by Ranta.
“I would ask [Scarcella] one thing: ‘Why?’ ” Ranta said.
A judge finally freed Ranta on March 21. But the former inmate’s joy was short-lived.
The day after his release, he suffered a heart attack.
“The doctors have said that the stress of being innocent and imprisoned for decades, combined with not being able to eat a fresh fruit or vegetable for 22 years, can do that to a heart,’’ Ranta said.
The gray-haired, bespectacled man said he’s doing “much better’’ now.
Ranta has hired civil-rights lawyer Pierre Sussman to represent him in the case, claiming malicious prosecution and wrongful imprisonment.
Amazingly, Ranta doesn’t blame the legal system for his woes — just a few bad apples.
“Most people in the justice system are trying to do the right thing. But when you have some police officers and detective[s] who are given too much power and higher-ups looking to solve a high-profile case, bad things can happen,” he said.
Ranta admitted that he barely managed to survive prison.
“You do what the guards tell you to do 24 hours a day, seven days a week; no decision is your own,” he said. “I spent a lot of time reading. You can only count the 13 bars and 862 holes in the ceiling of your cell so many times.
“It eats you up from the inside,’’ he said of knowing he was wrongly imprisoned.
“The most stressful part is wanting to be with your family and knowing that you can’t, especially [realizing] all those years I lost with my daughter, who was 2 at the time and is now about to have a baby of her own.
“The only things that I had were hope and faith: hope that one day the truth will come out and faith that I would be set free.”
Ranta said he is relying on that faith to now help him with his new challenges.
“It’s going to take a long time for me to feel normal again, if I even remember what normal is,’’ he said.
“Once I was released, the government washed their hands of me. It’s like, ‘You didn’t exist for 22 years and then you’re free, good luck, you’re on your own,’ ” he said. “I had no ID, no health insurance, nothing.
But “I have to let go,’’ he said. “The anger won’t get me those 22 years I missed with my family back.” Now “I appreciate every moment I have with them,” Ranta said.
“Once I’m fully on my feet, I’d like to work with other falsely convicted individuals to help them transition into society,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like me out there.”
By JAMIE SCHRAM Police Bureau Chief, May1, 2013