The jury in the Anthony Caravella civil lawsuit decided two of the four officers are liable for framing the mentally challenged 15-year-old for the 1983 rape and murder of a Miramar woman, condemning him to maximum security prisons for close to 26 years until DNA set him free in 2009.
Eight jurors unanimously found former Miramar officers George Pierson and William Mantesta liable and awarded Caravella a total of $7 million in damages against them after a five-week trial in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
Both men acted with malice or reckless indifference to Caravella, violated his constitutional right against malicious prosecution and coerced him into confessing, the jurors decided.
Former Miramar officer Bill Guess and retired Broward Sheriff's deputy Tony Fantigrassi were found not liable.
"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."
"I have to say I finally believe in the system," Caravella added. "I was worried. I was afraid they were going to get away with it."
His lawyer in the federal civil rights lawsuit, Barbara Heyer said: "The system really does work. Truth actually does prevail."
Jurors found that Mantesta was most to blame and ruled that he should pay Caravella a total of $4 million -- $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages for his actions.
The jury awarded $1 million in compensation and $2 million in punitive damages -- a total of $3 million -- against Pierson.
A legal guardian, appointed by the courts to help Caravella, 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 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 physical evidence in the rape and murder of Ada Cox Jankowski, 58.
The same forensic tests that freed Caravella linked another man to the brutal crime -- Anthony Martinez, who was the last person seen alive with Jankowski. Martinez, a neighbor of the victim, was seen leaving a bar with her shortly before she was raped, stabbed more than two dozen times, strangled and left on the grounds of Miramar Elementary School. The two had been overheard planning to have sex behind a nearby store.
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 just a couple of months after the Broward State Attorney's Office and Miramar Police Department named him a "person of interest" in the murder.
Diane Cuddihy, Broward's chief assistant public defender who fought to win Caravella his freedom, starting in 2001, wept with relief as the verdict was announced in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
"The relief is overwhelming that these men are going to have 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, the lead attorney who represented the three retired Miramar officers, said he didn't immediately know how the City of Miramar 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 the lawyers will examine their options.
Mantesta and Pierson showed little reaction to the verdict and said they had no comment as they left the courthouse. Guess was not in court today and could not be contacted for comment immediately.
Fantigrassi, who retired from the Sheriff's Office in 2005, and his attorney, Gregg Toomey, declined to comment.
Pierson, 63, of Inverness, retired after 34 years with Miramar police 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, served as police chief in Dundee for a time 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 that Pierson receives a disability payment of $9,447 per month, Mantesta’s monthly pension from the city is $2,299 and Guess receives a city pension of $4,015 a month. State records show Fantigrassi receives a pension of $11,603 per month.
This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.
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