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Man Freed after Two Decades In New York Prison; Doubt Cast On Murder Conviction

"Sir, you are free to go."

With those words from a judge in a New York court on Thursday, David Ranta was released from custody after serving 23 years in prison for a killing that authorities now doubt he carried out.

Weeping and surrounded by relatives, Ranta tried to describe his feelings to the media.

"I'm overwhelmed," the 58-year-old told reporters. "I feel like I'm under water, swimming."

The AP reports that, ahead of freeing Ranta, the judge acknowledged the failure of justice in his case:

... Judge Miriam Cyrulnik offered an apology: "To say I'm sorry for what you've endured would be an understatement. ... But I say it anyway."

The New York Times sums up the path to Ranta's release this way:

Mr. Ranta was convicted in 1991 of shooting a Hasidic rabbi, Chaskel Werzberger, in the head following the botched robbery of a jewelry courier. He twice appealed his conviction, and each time prosecutors working for the office of the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, convinced the courts to rule against Mr. Ranta.

No longer. After a yearlong investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit of the district attorney's office, the prosecutors have joined Mr. Ranta's lawyer, Pierre Sussman, in asking the court to release the prisoner "in the interest of justice." Prosecutors say new evidence creates "a probability that the verdict" in a trial would favor Mr. Ranta.

Despite the government's decision to support Ranta's freedom, not everyone was happy with the news. The BBC reports:

The lead detective in the case, Louis Scarcella, has defended the investigation, saying he never framed anyone.

Relatives of the victim have said they are shocked by the development and still believe Ranta was involved in the crime.

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