Broward Crime Lab under cloud of suspicion
DNA-cleared Broward man might seek money for years spent in prison
Prosecutors resume search for killer of Miramar woman
By Paula McMahon, Sun Sentinel
March 27, 2010
Now that a judge has tossed Anthony Caravella's conviction for the 1983 rape and murder of Ada Cox Jankowski, attorneys on both sides of the case say they are trying to ensure that justice is done — however late — for the slain woman and the exonerated man.
Broward County prosecutors are doing more scientific testing to see whether they can get a DNA profile that would identify the killer. Testing eliminated Caravella as the source of DNA evidence in the slaying.
"Ada Jankowski is still dead and we want to know the answer to the question — if it wasn't Anthony Caravella, then who was it?" said Carolyn McCann, the Broward prosecutor handling the case.
At the same time, a Fort Lauderdale civil rights attorney with a track record of winning compensation for wrongfully convicted people is representing Caravella to see if he is entitled to restitution for the nearly 26 years he was locked up.
The lawyer, Barbara Heyer, declined to comment Friday. Among the cases she has won: $4.2 million in settlements from the Broward Sheriff's Office and the city of Miami on behalf of Jerry Frank Townsend, a mentally challenged man who spent 22 years in prison for several murders before DNA exonerated him.
Seth Miller, of the Innocence Project of Florida, which advocates on behalf of exonerated people, said Caravella has three options but none of them guarantee he will receive any money. He could file a civil suit against law enforcement or he could ask the state Legislature to give him restitution. Or he may qualify, under the state's Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, for $50,000 per year that he was locked up – about $1.3 million.
Caravella's public defender, Diane Cuddihy said her client should be compensated for what happened to him. "He went in as a child and he came out as a 41-year-old man; I think society owes him a great deal," Cuddihy said.
McCann said prosecutors agreed to every defense request for DNA testing for Caravella and cooperated with and helped the defense since 2001, which Cuddihy does not dispute.
"It's been amicable," McCann said. "Our offices both wanted to get to the bottom of this."
When Caravella was arrested in December 1983, Miramar police officers hit and coerced him, causing the mentally challenged 15-year-old to falsely confess to the crimes, Cuddihy said. Caravella's girlfriend and her mother gave sworn statements last year that officers hit Caravella before and after his arrest. Miramar police deny the allegations.
There are many troubling issues in Caravella's case, said Cuddihy and her boss, Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
The problems include the alleged mishandling of the case by Miramar police officers, now retired, and the key role played by a former Broward Sheriff's Deputy Tony Fantigrassi, who was involved in other cases that resulted in exonerations, according to court records.
Fantigrassi testified that Caravella made his first self-incriminating statement during an unrecorded interview when the two were alone. The interview was the second of five statements Caravella gave. The other four were taped by Miramar police detectives and include several inconsistencies between what Caravella said and what the physical evidence showed.
Fantigrassi also was a key player in Townsend's conviction in the 1970s. He testified that Townsend led detectives to the murder scenes and provided details that only the killer would know. DNA later proved that another man committed those crimes.
A federal judge ruled that Fantigrassi's testimony and theories were "implausible" in 2002 when he testified to try to uphold Tim Brown's conviction for the 1990 murder of Deputy Patrick Behan. The judge ruled, on several grounds, that Brown was "actually innocent" of the crime and threw out the conviction.
Fantigrassi, who retired as a major in 2005 during the faked crime statistics scandal at the Sheriff's Office, did not respond to messages left at his business Friday.
Cuddihy said she is "very concerned about what went on in that interview room between a 15-year-old mentally challenged child [Caravella] and Fantigrassi."
"I think the statement [to Fantigrassi] is suspect, I think all the statements are suspect. I think the fact that he [Fantigrassi] was involved in these cases that resulted in exonerations is cause for concern," Cuddihy said.
"We can't talk for Fantigrassi, he's gone," said Jim Leljedal, a Sheriff's Office spokesman. "All I can tell you is we're doing things differently now."
Cuddihy also said she and Caravella do not understand why DNA testing by the Broward Sheriff's crime lab in 2001 failed to exonerate him. Workers at an independent California lab said they used methods in August 2009 that were available to BSO in 2001 and rapidly found the DNA evidence that eliminated Caravella as a suspect. Another independent lab in Virginia confirmed those results Wednesday.
"I think they mishandled the case; they missed it," Cuddihy said of the Sheriff's Office lab workers.
Leljedal said most of the people involved in the 2001 testing no longer work at the Sheriff's Office. "I can't at this point tell you exactly what happened in 2001," Leljedal said.
Prosecutors said they believe that the recent testing was more sophisticated than what was available to the Sheriff's Office in 2001.
Paula McMahon can be reached at pmcmahon@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4533.
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