Two former Miramar police officers who framed a mentally challenged 15-year-old boy for the rape and murder of a woman must pay him $7 million for the nearly 26 years he spent in prison, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
Anthony Caravella, now 46, of Pembroke Pines, was freed from prison in September 2009 after DNA testing exonerated him of the rape and murder of Ada Cox Jankowski, 58. His conviction was re-examined after a series of Sun Sentinel stories on the 1983 case.
Caravella, who works doing clean-up at his uncle’s construction sites, said he was happy and relieved —though he could still face a long, difficult path to try to collect the money.
Leaving the courthouse
Anthony Caravella leaves the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale with his attorneys, Barbara Heyer, left, and Diane Cuddihy on Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2013. A jury awarded Caravella $7 million in his lawsuit against police who sent him to prison for 25 years for a crime he did not commit. (Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)
“It feels like I’m one step closer to getting justice,” said Caravella. “When we won in court with the jury, I was real excited but it’s taking a long time.
“If there’s one thing I learned in prison, it’s how to be patient,” said Caravella, who spent 9,389 days behind bars.
He said he got a second job this week, working night security, to help pay his bills.
A federal jury in Fort Lauderdale in March 2013 found former Miramar police officers William Mantesta and George Pierson liable for framing Caravella.
The jurors found that both men “while acting under color of state law as a member of the City of Miramar Police Department” acted with malice or reckless indifference to Caravella, who had an IQ of 67. The two officers violated his constitutional rights against malicious prosecution, coerced him into confessing and withheld evidence that could have cleared him soon after his arrest in 1983, jurors found.
In matter-of-fact and unusually swift decision, issued just one week after hearing oral arguments in Miami, a three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the jury verdict and found no error in the trial judge’s rulings.
Mantesta, 65, of Chipley, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Pierson, 65, of Inverness, said he did not want to say much about the case: “I’m at a loss for words. This is something that happened 30 years ago and I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Caravella’s lawyer, Barbara Heyer, was delighted the appeals court ruled so quickly.
“We are looking at all options to collect the verdict,” Heyer said.
Jamie Cole, the lead lawyer who represented the city of Miramar and the officers, said his clients have not yet decided if they should appeal the ruling.
Former Miramar police officers William Mantesta, left, and George Pierson, right, leave the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale in 2013. Eight jurors unanimously found them liable and awarded Caravella a total of $7 million in damages against them after a five-week trial in federal court in… (Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)
He said city officials take the position that Miramar is not liable to pay the verdict and the city did not have insurance to cover the officers’ misconduct.
“Caravella can proceed with whatever collections efforts he deems appropriate against the officers,” Cole said.
Other legal experts, who were not involved in the case, said they believe that Miramar, or its insurance company, may have to pay all or some of the money judgment for the retired city employees.
Heyer said she is still investigating whether the city had insurance and if it should cover the cost of the verdict, as well as other options.