A civil suit filed on behalf of Anthony Caravella, now 44 was thrown out by U.S. District Judge James Cohn against the city of Miramar and the Broward Sheriff’s Office, leaving four former Broward County sheriff’s department detectives as the sole residual defendants. He also discharged an allegation that the accused four officers conspired against the mentally challenged minor.
However, allegations still stand that the detectives conspired to coerce a confession from Caravella who was subsequently convicted and jailed for the rape/murder of Ada Cox Jankowski in November 1983.
Caravella was arrested for failing to appear in juvenile court on a grand theft charge in December 1983. During his time in custody, he was interrogated by police in reference to Jankowski’s murder. Caravella, who was tested to demonstrate that he maintained an IQ of 67, eventually provided four separate statements that were recorded by police. None of them apparently contained the same facts but they did lead to implicating him in the murder.
The statements were so dissimilar, that they conflicted with the evidence and in some cases contradicted themselves. At first, Caravella told police that the crime was perpetrated by three other youths. He then changed his story completely admitting that he had committed the crime, hitting the victim over the head with a soda bottle and killing her. In truth, she had been raped, stabbed and strangled. He made reference to the victim as being a “girl,” despite her age being much older than him, and also said that she was taller than he was when she was actually approximately eight inches shorter. He went on to say that the victim’s pants were wholly off, when they were only partially pulled off. He further went on to say that the victim’s shoes had both been removed, when one of them was still on one of her feet.
Caravella was convicted by a jury, after he turned 16, on August 3, 1984, almost exclusively on the foundation of his declarations to the police. There was never any physical evidence linked to him found at the crime scene. His attorneys argued that he was pressured into giving fabricated admissions by making him believe that he could get another female teenaged friend, Dawn Simone Herron, out of trouble if he voiced to them what they sought to know about the murder of Jankowski. His attorneys also implied that he had been threatened and even beaten by police up until the time he confessed to the crime. At the conclusion of the trial, Caravella was sentenced to life in prison.
Seventeen years later, in May 2001, Caravella’s attorneys’ swayed Broward County prosecutors to agree to again test the physical evidence recovered from the crime., These items included numerous hairs found on the victim’s body, a steak knife, T-shirt, as well as a vaginal swab that was taken. In November, the authorities conveyed that tests were inconclusive on the fingernail scrapings as well as the results of the rape kit. There wasn’t any sperm found according to Broward County lab analysts.
Despite the inconclusive results of the Broward County lab analysis, the evidence was later sent to Dr. Edward Blake, a DNA expert in California, who was able to isolate sperm and in September 2009, authorities said that Caravella was eliminated as the source of sperm found in the victim’s body.
In a separate finding, in 2002, during the prosecutor’s review of the evidence, they stumbled upon a recording of a telephone conversation made to a detective in the case from one of Caravella’s friends. The content of the tape revealed that the friend said that he took part in the crime along with Caravella. At that time, the friend was grilled further but denied any involvement. Defense attorneys argued that the tape, which was of great importance, was never turned over to the defense preceding Caravella’s trial.
Caravella was finally released from prison after being excluded by DNA evidence as the source of any physical confirmation in the case. The Broward Circuit judge who presided over the case apologized to him in open court on behalf of the state of Florida.
Recently, all the attorneys involved in the civil action declined to remark on the judge’s ruling due to the fact that the trial is still going on. The judge established that the agencies involved in the case had not been notified that there were ever any problems with any of the officers’ conduct before or during the case.
At last week’s hearing, attorneys representing the detectives played the four audio-taped statements for the jury before bringing forth an expert witness who expressed to the jurors that in his opinion, the officers handled the entire murder investigation “in a very professional way”. He also went on to testify that the handling of the questioning “followed the traditional guidelines of 1983.”
Joseph Matthews is a former homicide investigator for the city of Miami Beach and now, a police instructor. He has also been a frequent commentator on FOX News and has worked as a cold case homicide investigator for the popular television show “America’s Most Wanted.”
Matthews testified that he saw no problems with the questioning of Caravella by police, or the way other suspects in the homicide investigation were examined.
“He was a normal, well-spoken 15-year-old,” Matthews said, referring to Caravella, and also stated that the police would have had no reason to believe that Caravella had a below average IQ, and could be considered mentally challenged.
When asked to explain what he meant by his statement by Caravella’s attorney, he said that Caravella was more articulate than most people who commit crimes and suggested that the majority of inmates currently in the Broward County Jail have an IQ below seventy.
When Caravella’s lawyer went on to ask him for the basis for his opinion, he replied: “I was basing my opinion on my opinion, not that I did an IQ test or anything” on the inmates in jail. He further commented in reference to the questioning that it was done “in a very professional manner” and that officers “selected the right technique” to question him. He said that he saw “no improper or inappropriate questions” used on Caravella, and any so called leading questions were appropriate. Officers had the right to speak to Caravella without reading him his rights when they were under the impression that he might have witnessed the slaying instead of being involved in the murder.
Detectives also had the right to question him without having a parent present, Matthews said, specifying that Caravella’s mother was present for three of the four taped statements. She also testified that her son had also confessed to her the details of the murder. Matthews went on to say that the detectives went “out of their way” to respect Caravella’s rights and “above and beyond” in reading him his Miranda rights.
Addressing the jury Matthews said he thought Caravella’s statements, which included a lot of incorrect information and many erroneous details were credible. He also stalwartly suggested that Caravella committed the murder.
Closing arguments in the case are slated to begin after a DNA expert, called by retired Sheriff’s Major Tony Fantigrassi, finishes his testimony. The expert previously advised that the testing on the old DNA evidence was not reliable.
Caravella’s attorney is expected to ask jurors to find that the retired Sheriff’s Major and retired Miramar detectives George Pierson, William Mantesta and Bill Guess coerced her client into falsely confessing to the 1983 murder.
She is also expected to ask the jury for compensation and punitive damages against all four officers. No monetary settlement has been mentioned thus far. Caravella’s lawyer also made what has been taken as a tactical decision dropping assertions of intentional infliction of emotional distress which was a part of the original lawsuit.
Wrongful arrests in Federal cases are not uncommon. There is a great deal of innocent individuals serving sentences for Federal crimes they did not commit. If you or someone you know or love is in a situation such as this it is essential to hire an attorney that is experienced in Federal law.
Mr. Cohen is a board certified criminal trial lawyer rated AV by Martindale Hubbel (pre-eminent) and a “Super Lawyer” recognized as being in the top 5% of his specialized field (criminal trial law) among Florida lawyers. He is considered a specialist by the Florida Bar in his field. Mr. Cohen has tried scores of cases over his 35 year career and is a member of the Florida and New York Bars. He is also admitted to practice in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh and Second Circuit.
When you need an experienced and committed defense lawyer you can trust in the tri-county areas of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties Contact the Criminal Defense Law Firm of Michael B. Cohen, P.A. Online or call 954-928-0059 or 561 366-8200.
Mr. Cohen is now a partner in the prestigious law firm of McLaughlin & Stern, LLP.