Anthony Caravella in 1984 and 2009

Anthony Caravella, photographed in court in 1984 and on the day he was freed from prison in September 2009. (Sun Sentinel / March 15, 2013)

There are many things that Anthony Caravella doesn't remember about 1983, but he told jurors on Tuesday that one thing is for sure — he didn't rape or murder Ada Cox Jankowski.

Caravella had served close to 26 years in prison before DNA tests eventually set him free in 2009. He was 15 with an IQ of 67 when he was arrested and confessed to the crime in a series of increasingly incriminating statements to three Miramar detectives and a Broward Sheriff's deputy in late 1983 and early 1984.

On the witness stand Tuesday, Caravella said that the only things he knew about the crime came from details the officers gave him. He said he confessed because officers told him it was the only way he could get a young friend, Dawn Simone Herron, out of trouble.

"Whatever information I said, sir, I only got from them," Caravella testified. "I don't recall everything they told me to say."

Caravella was the last witness to testify on his side of a federal civil lawsuit, seeking damages from the city of Miramar, the Broward Sheriff's Office and the four retired detectives, William Mantesta, George Pierson, Bill Guess and Tony Fantigrassi.

Dressed in a dark suit and white shirt, Caravella sat slightly hunched forward and spoke in a soft, flat but unfailingly polite voice. Though the officers said they never suspected for a moment back then that he was mentally challenged, Caravella repeatedly appeared baffled by questions posed by the lawyers in court.

Many times, he repeated variations of "I'm not sure I really understand what you are asking me?" or "You're confusing me" in response to questions.

He said he never met the victim, didn't rape her, didn't kill her. The forensic tests that freed him also implicated another man, Anthony Martinez, who was the main suspect and was the last person seen with the victim when she was alive.

Though Caravella's memory was vague about many details, some things stood out. He remembered when officers arrested him at his friend's house on Dec. 28, 1983 — ostensibly because he failed to show up for a juvenile court hearing on a stolen bicycle charge.

"Mantesta grabbed my neck and he pushed me to the wall," Caravella testified, adding that a bead necklace he wore around his neck broke from the force. He testified that Mantesta told him: "You are lucky it ain't your f------ neck."

Caravella also testified that officers took him to the crime scene at Miramar Elementary School, which his lawyer Barbara Heyer suggested was one of the ways they fed him details of the crime. Mantesta previously testified that they took Caravella to the crime scene, but later said he meant the place where the victim was allegedly abducted.

Caravella also told jurors: "[Mantesta] told me if I knew anything concerning the murder he was going to let Dawn go home."

He was later allowed to meet alone with Simone Herron, who was just 16. She testified earlier in the trial that he promised he would get her out of trouble.

"I told her 'Don't worry I'm going to get you out of trouble,'" Caravella testified. "The only way I could get her out of trouble was give the police a statement."

Two psychologists testified in the trial that Caravella's intellectual challenges sometimes make it difficult for him to communicate effectively with other people and that, like many people who are mentally challenged, he is more vulnerable to trying to please authority figures. He also thinks in very concrete ways and often doesn't understand abstract concepts, they said.

Caravella also gave the jury a matter-of-fact, but chilling, account of life in prison between 1983 and 2009.

There was a lot of violence and he had to fight to protect himself, mostly in the early years of his sentence, he said. "There's not a day is going to go by you are not going to see something. There's always people getting stabbed, there's always people getting hit on the head with pipes."

"Did other things happen you in prison?" his lawyer asked.

"Yes," he replied.

"Can you tell us about that?"