A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that two retired police officers accused of framing Anthony Caravella for a murder he did not commit must pay him $7 million for the nearly 26 years he spent behind bars.
Caravella was only 15 years old and had an IQ of 67 when Officers William Mantesta and George Pierson coerced him into confessing to the 1983 rape and murder of 58-year-old Ada Cox Jankowski. He was arrested by the two officers for failing to appear in court for a minor theft charge. Over the course of a week in juvenile custody, Caravella was told and forced to repeat information about the crime scene where Jankowski was found stabbed more than 24 times. In exchange for his confession, the officers offered to free his friend, Dawn Simone Herron, who was arrested with him on the theft charge.
In 1984, Caravella was sentenced to life in prison, narrowly avoiding the death penalty. Seventeen years later, reporters at the
investigated the case and reported their findings to the Broward Public Defender’s Office. Chief Assistant Public Defender Diane Cuddihy had DNA evidence from the crime scene tested. The results excluded Caravella and matched to the now deceased Anthony Martinez, Jankowski’s neighbor and the last person seen with Jankowski before her body was identified at a local schoolyard. Caravella was exonerated in 2009.
In 2013, a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale found Mantesta and Pierson liable for framing Caravella. The jurors found that the officers acted with malice or reckless indifference, violated Caravella’s constitutional rights, coerced him into confessing and withheld evidence that could have cleared him soon after his arrest. A three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the verdict.
The decision entitles Caravella to $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages, plus legal expenses. Jurors found Mantesta liable for $4 million and Pierson liable for the remaining $3 million.
According to the
, legal experts uninvolved in the case “believe that Miramar, or its insurance company, may have to pay all or some of the money judgment for the retired city employees.”
“It feels like I’m one step closer to getting justice,” said Caravella, according to the