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.
- Anthony Caravella after being awarded $7 million in federal court
- Leaving court.
- Touching interview with Anthony Caravella after being freed from jail in 2009
- Leaving the courthouse
- Anthony Caravella's journey
- Anthony Caravella in 1983
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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.