Retired detective defends record in NYC case

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by Associated Press

WHAS11.com

Posted on March 30, 2013 at 4:06 PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- By his own estimation, retired detective Louis Scarcella was always good at getting people to talk about their crimes.

The suspect in the brutal 1990 slaying of a prominent rabbi was no exception.

"We come from the same neighborhood," Scarcella recalls telling David Ranta, also from Brooklyn, during questioning in 1990. "We're both Italian. Why don't you get it off your chest?"

Scarcella says his coaxing got Ranta to confess he was in on a botched robbery that led to the killing. He ended up going to prison on a murder conviction — at the time, another big score in the detective's storied career.

But a few weeks ago, Scarcella was summoned to the Brooklyn district attorney's office and told that a recent review revealed too many flaws in the case to hold Ranta any longer. After a judge's apology, Ranta was released earlier this month amid a crush of crying relatives and television cameras.

Ranta, 58, has proclaimed his innocence, sparking speculation that he could try to sue authorities for a wrongful conviction. There was no response to messages left for his attorney.

In another twist, Ranta suffered a heart attack the day after he was released and was hospitalized. His family has said he's on the mend.

All the drama has cast a harsh spotlight on Scarcella, who during his time with the New York Police Department earned — and embraced — a reputation as a larger-than-life investigator. Ranta's trial attorney calls him a "cowboy" who "did a lot of bad things."

Scarcella, 61, defends his record and bristles when asked what went wrong with Ranta.

"I caught a lot of cases and I got confessions," told The Associated Press in a recent interview at his Staten Island home. "I was called into cases that weren't mine to speak to people. I was called in and I did my job and I got confessions."

On Ranta, he added: "I stand by everything I did. I did my job and I would do it the same way. ... I sleep well at night."

Scarcella, who retired in 2000, has slowed down since his days as a brash young crime fighter.

A former marathoner and weightlifter, he had a hip replacement last year. A highchair and a bassinet sat in his second-floor living room, ready for use by his grandchildren.

On his left arm is a tattoo depicting Cain killing Abel. Another on his shoulder is of an NYPD badge with 92 on it — the same shield number used by his father.

Scarcella's hair is still dark but thinner than in a black-and-white photo showing him leading away a handcuffed Ranta following the arrest in the rabbi case. The tabloids ate it up, and so did he.

"I'm vain to a certain degree," he said when asked about the photo. "I had my perp walks. ... Was I proud? I was tired. I was relieved. And I was going on vacation the next day."

Scarcella had good reason to need a break: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the city averaged up to six killings a day. It was an era when homicide detectives juggled a dozen or more investigations at once.

"You had to prioritize," Scarcella said. "We were undermanned."

Scarcella was credited with solving sensational cases that gave the city a scary reputation and made NYPD detectives redeemers — that of the ruthless drug lord known as "Baby Sam," of an intruder who stabbed a dance choreographer and of two teens accused of killing of a transit worker by torching a subway token booth.

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