The 9,389 days Anthony Caravella wrongfully spent in prison still haunt him, but he was relieved Tuesday that two former police officers who put him away are finally being held accountable.
Jurors decided that William Mantesta and George Pierson framed Caravella, then a mentally challenged 15 year old, for the 1983 rape and murder of a Miramar woman and should pay him $7 million for the close to 26 years he spent in prison.
The city of Miramar or its insurers may have to pay some or all of the judgment against the former detectives, but legal experts said Caravella, now 44, has a good chance of collecting the money — plus his lawyer's fees and costs.
Former Miramar officer Bill Guess and retired Broward Sheriff's Major Tony Fantigrassi were found not liable after the five-week civil rights trial in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
"I feel good that it's over with," said Caravella, now 44. "I feel like it took a long time but I'm just glad that everybody knows what happened — that's what I feel good about."
The eight jurors unanimously found Mantesta and Pierson liable. Both men acted with malice or reckless indifference to Caravella, who had an IQ of 67, violated his constitutional rights against being maliciously prosecuted, coerced him into confessing and withheld evidence that could have cleared him soon after his arrest, the jurors decided. DNA set him free in 2009.
"I was worried. I was afraid they were going to get away with it," Caravella said.
His lawyer in the civil suit, Barbara Heyer said: "The system really does work. Truth actually does prevail."
Jurors found that Mantesta was most to blame and should pay Caravella $4 million – $1.5 million in compensation and $2.5 million in punitive damages.
The jury awarded $1 million in compensation and $2 million in punitive damages -- a total of $3 million -- against Pierson.
Caravella's partial legal guardian, court-appointed to help him, filed suit on his behalf, seeking damages and compensation for the Broward County man who has worked as an $11-an-hour construction laborer for his uncle for the last two years. He was freed from prison in September 2009 and his conviction was thrown out on March 25, 2010 when DNA testing excluded him as the source of any evidence in the rape and murder of Ada Cox Jankowski, 58.
Diane Cuddihy, Broward's chief assistant public defender who began fighting for Caravella's freedom in 2001, wept as the verdict was announced Tuesday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
"The relief is overwhelming that these men are going to have to pay for what they did to that boy," Cuddihy said. "It's just so horrible what they did to a 15-year-old child. They should be in prison."
Jamie Cole, Miramar's lead attorney representing the three retired city officers, said he didn't immediately know how the city will handle the judgment against Mantesta and Pierson.
"It was obviously a split decision. It was good news for [former] Officer Guess but we're disappointed as to these two [former] officers," Cole said. He said the city will review the verdict and lawyers will examine the options.
Because of the specific language on the verdict form and the law on federal civil rights cases, Miramar or its insurance company may have to pay all or some of the money judgment against Mantesta and Pierson, said James Green, a West Palm Beach lawyer who wasn't involved in Caravella's case but has handled police misconduct cases for 35 years.
Miramar Mayor Lori Moseley said she wants to hear from the city's lawyers before commenting on the case or how city officials should respond.
Mantesta and Pierson showed little reaction to the verdict and said they had no comment as they left court. Guess was not in court and could not be contacted. Fantigrassi and his attorney, Gregg Toomey, declined to comment.
Pierson, 63, of Inverness, retired after 34 years with Miramar and now works as a Citrus County code enforcement officer; Mantesta, also 63, of Chipley, retired from Miramar in 1993; Guess, 66, left Miramar in 1999 and now works as a Polk County Sheriff's deputy. Fantigrassi, 63, of Southwest Ranches, retired from the Broward Sheriff's Office in 2005.
Miramar records show Pierson receives a disability payment of $9,447 per month, Mantesta's monthly pension is $2,299 and Guess receives a pension of $4,015 a month. State records show Fantigrassi receives a pension of $11,603 per month.
Mantesta testified last year that he made about $650,000 on an investment when he worked for Miramar. It's not clear if he still has any of that money.
Caravella, who testified he trusted Mantesta, was arrested by Mantesta and Pierson on Dec. 28, 1983 on a juvenile case alleging he stole a bicycle and failed to show up for court. He made a series of increasingly self-incriminating statements while in custody over the next week, eventually confessing to the murder.
Caravella and Dawn Simone Herron, now of Sunrise, testified in the civil trial that the officers coerced Caravella into falsely incriminating himself by telling him if he gave a statement they would free Simone Herron, who was 16 at the time and with him when he was arrested.
Caravella was quickly convicted in 1984. With an 11-1 vote, Broward jurors spared him from death in the electric chair, which was legal for juveniles then, but recommended he spend the rest of his life in prison.
In 2001, his brother Larry Dunlap called the Sun Sentinel seeking help and reporters began examining the case. Concerned by what they found, they contacted the Broward Public Defender's Office and Cuddihy sought DNA testing. A first round of testing by the Broward Sheriff's Office crime laboratory reported no useful results in 2001 but Cuddihy never gave up and more testing by other labs eventually excluded Caravella as a suspect.
The DNA tests that freed Caravella linked another man to the brutal crime -- Anthony Martinez, the victim's neighbor and the last person seen alive with her. Martinez left a bar with Jankowski shortly before she was raped, stabbed more than two dozen times, strangled and left on the grounds of Miramar Elementary School.
Detectives initially pursued Martinez, who was 17, as the prime suspect but dropped that effort when he and his mother stopped cooperating soon after the slaying. Martinez died of natural causes in upstate New York in November 2010 two months after the Broward State Attorney's Office and Miramar police named him a "person of interest" in the murder.
Psychologist Lori Butts told jurors Caravella has chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression related to the attacks he suffered and the violence he witnessed – including the stabbing murder of his cellmate – during his incarceration. His intellectual challenges make it more difficult to treat him, she said, partly because talk therapy is hard for him.
Butts testified that research on exonerated people shows they are affected by imprisonment differently from people who are rightfully convicted.
"[They] feel more helplessness, more disenfranchized" more anger, more of a disconnect with other people and have higher levels of anxiety, Butts testified. Exonerees also have a tougher time reconnecting with family and friends, can find it difficult to make new relationships and often feel they don't fit in to society.
Caravella has a difficult time sleeping, partly because he has terrible nightmares and restless thoughts, she testified. He didn't fake symptoms or look for attention, Butts said: "Mr. Caravella was completely the opposite – 'I'm fine, everything's OK, I don't know why you're asking me that."
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