Rabbi’s convicted killer goes free after new probe casts doubt on evidence


Relatives of a murdered Brooklyn rabbi reportedly are shocked after the convicted killer was freed following a new probe of the case cast doubt on the evidence.

David Ranta, 58, was freed Thursday by a New York State court judge in Brooklyn. Ranta, who had been in imprisoned in Buffalo, had claimed he was wrongly convicted in the 1990 killing of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, a Holocaust survivor and leader of the Satmar hasidic community.

Prosecutors had told the judge in paperwork that they would support a defense motion to vacate the conviction and ask for a dismissal of the indictment. After a review by the Brooklyn district attorney's office Conviction Integrity Unit, the prosecutors said, they “no longer have sufficient evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” The Associated Press reported.

Witnesses recanted and evidence suggests another man who died in a car accident months after the shooting was the shooter.

But Isaac Abraham, a close friend to the Werzberger family, said the family believes there is still credible evidence that Ranta participated in the crime.

“For this to happen 23 years later is mind boggling,” Abraham said, according to AP. “He can only claim he wasn't the shooter, but he can never claim he wasn't involved.”

The case dated to Feb. 8, 1990, and a botched robbery attempt of a diamond courier in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. After the courier escaped unharmed, the gunman approached Werzberger's car, shot him in the forehead, pulled him out of the vehicle and drove away in it.

No physical evidence linked Ranta, an unemployed drug addict, to the crime. A jury found Ranta guilty in May 1991 based on witness testimony and circumstantial evidence. He was sentenced to 37 1/2 years in prison.

Leaving the court on Thursday, Ranta said, “I'm overwhelmed. I feel like I'm under water, swimming,” AP reported. “Like I said from the beginning, I had nothing to do with this case.”

Salesman indicted in shooting of Brooklyn store owners


 A New York clothing salesman was indicted on murder charges in the shooting deaths of three Brooklyn store owners, two of them Orthodox Jews.

Salvatore Perrone, 63, was indicted Tuesday by a Brooklyn grand jury after being arrested last week by New York Police on suspicion of murder. The victims were of Middle Eastern descent.

Perrone reportedly made incriminating statements during police questioning, Reuters reported. A duffel bag belonging to Perrone was found at his girlfriend's apartment and contained a firearm with his fingerprints and shell casings that matched those found at the crime scenes, a 12-inch kitchen knife with dried blood and two folding knives with seven-inch blades.

The latest murder was on Nov. 16 in the Flatbush store of Rahmatolla Vahidipour, 78, of Great Neck, N.Y., in suburban Long Island. Vahidipour was shot in the head and chest in his She She Boutique, and then dragged to the back of the store and covered with clothes, according to the New York Daily News.

Vahidipour, who came to the United States from Iran, was scheduled to attend the bar mitzvah of one of his nine grandchildren, according to the newspaper.

In August, Isaac Kadare, 59, an Orthodox Jew born in Egypt, was shot in the head and stabbed in the neck in his Amazing 99 Cent Deals store in Bensonhurst. A month earlier, Mohammed Gebeli, 65, a Muslim originally from Egypt, was shot in the neck and killed in his clothing store in Bay Ridge.

No motive was uncovered for the murders. If convicted Perrone could face life in prison.

Leiby Kletzky’s killer sentenced to 40 years to life


Levi Aron, the Brooklyn store clerk who pleaded guilty to killing 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.

Aron, 37, was sentenced Wednesday in Brooklyn Supreme Court. He did not address the court.

He pleaded guilty earlier this month to kidnapping, killing and dismembering Leiby near his home in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn in July 2011. Aron’s attorney at first had attempted to pursue an insanity defense; Aron reportedly has a history of mental illness.

Leiby’s family did not attend the sentencing, The Associated Press reported. A statement from his father, Nachman Kletzky, that was read in court said that “God did not abandon our son nor our family for one second.”

Leiby, making his first attempt to walk home alone from camp, had stopped to ask Aron for directions and entered his car. Less than 48 hours later, the search for the boy came to a grisly conclusion when parts of his dismembered body were found in the freezer of Aron’s apartment in the nearby Kensington section of Brooklyn.

Trial of Leiby Kletzky’s accused killer staying in Brooklyn


The trial of Levi Aron, the Brooklyn man accused of killing 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, will stay in Brooklyn, an appeals court ruled.

Lawyers for Aron had asked the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court to move his trial out of the borough over fears that the extensive media attention would prejudice jurors, but the ruling said the trial should not be moved to the suggested Suffolk County in suburban Long Island or to Bronx County.

The Brooklyn District Attorney reportedly pointed out that “there are nearly 500,000 people eligible for jury duty in Brooklyn, and that there are far fewer Jews in Suffolk and Bronx counties.”

A psychological exam found Aron competent to stand trial, although he has admitted to hearing voices. Aron has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and kidnapping.

Aron, 35, is charged with murdering Leiby near his Brooklyn home. He said he picked up the haredi Orthodox boy in his car when the boy became lost while walking home from camp for the first time and asking for directions. Aron said he panicked after the boy was reported missing.

Parts of Leiby’s dismembered body were found in the freezer of Aron’s apartment.

Lawyer for Leiby Kletzky’s alleged murderer: My client is insane


A lawyer for the man who confessed to killing 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky said the confession was coerced and his client is insane.

Howard Greenberg, an attorney for Levi Aron, said during a hearing Monday in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn that he will prove that Aron is not guilty by reason of insanity in the July murder.

Aron appeared in court through a video conference. He reportedly did not move or say a word during the hearing, according to the New York Post.

A psychological exam found Aron competent to stand trial, although he has admitted to hearing voices. Aron pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and kidnapping.

Aron is charged with murdering Leiby near his Brooklyn home. He said he picked up the haredi Orthodox boy in his car when the boy became lost while walking home from camp for the first time and asking for directions. Aron said he panicked after the boy was reported missing.

Parts of Leiby’s dismembered body were found in Aron’s freezer.

After Leiby Kletzky murder, Orthodox children face unchanging milestones


For a blue-eyed 13-year-old named Yochanan, the lure of sleepaway camp this year is a religious ceremony at summer’s end. Yochanan will have a small bar mitzvah there in August, reading from the Torah in front of his bunkmates for the first time. A second, more formal ceremony will take place in September, in Brooklyn’s Borough Park.

On a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, this meant a smaller milestone to herald the larger one: His mother, Chavie Landman, brought Yochanan and his 9-year-old sister, Chaya, to Bencraft Hatters on Borough Park’s 13th Avenue to buy a black, wide-brimmed Borselino brand hat that he will wear during his summer camp bar mitzvah. (Landman asked the Forward to use her maiden name in identifying her out of a wish to avoid publicity.)

The excursion occurred on July 17, just six days after another child was abducted and killed on a nearby street. And the shock still echoed in the conversations of people on the busy sidewalks. But inside the store, a salesman calmly asked, “First hat?” picking up a Borselino for Yochanan to try on. Three hats later, Yochanan considered himself in the mirror. His mother agreed: This was the one.

For Yochanan, this summer will culminate a childhood of striking structure and regimen — a disciplined coming of age that begins even before a child learns how to cross the street and walk home from day camp by himself, as 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was trying to do for the first time when he was snatched from his neighborhood. A Jewish man is accused of abducting and killing him, and is currently awaiting trial. Meanwhile, a community that exists to groom the next generation of Orthodox Jews continues to pursue its core purpose with, if anything, renewed intensity.

To be an 8-year-old boy in Borough Park is to submit to a highly structured life of school and prayer. The secular notion of helicopter parenting — in which mothers and fathers hover protectively over their children — does not exist in Borough Park. It might be said that there is no need for helicopters in that neighborhood; the community watches its own, accounting for both the safety and spiritual trajectory of each boy and girl. Leiby Kletzky’s anomalous death revealed the inevitable gaps that persist even in a community determined to maintain wall-to-wall vigilance over its young.

Orthodox parents in Borough Park typically have at least five children, making it one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in New York. The most recent hard data on the community’s Jewish population is a UJA-Federation Jewish population survey that found 76,600 Jews living in Borough Park in 2002 — a number certain to have grown substantially since then.

It is a community whose focus on children is defined by yeshiva. For boys, school begins at the age of 3 or 3 1/2, when they receive their first haircuts, complete with payot, or sidelocks, and don their first tallitot katan, the undergarments with tzitzit, or prayer fringes, that traditionally observant Jewish males wear. They enter a sex-segregated school system that will prepare them, first and foremost, to live Jewishly, as they define it.

“This community is all about providing Jewish education,” said Ezra Friedlander of the Friedlander Group, a Borough Park community relations guru. “The only antidote to assimilation is Jewish education.”

In Borough Park, Jewish education means study of Torah and Talmud as holy texts. There are dozens of different types of yeshivas in Borough Park. Some are affiliated with particular sects of Chasidism, and others are open to all types of Orthodox Jews. Depending on the yeshiva, religious lessons are taught either in biblical Hebrew or in Yiddish. This takes up the morning, starting at 9 a.m. The latter half of the day is spent learning secular subjects in English, such as math or history. Praying, eating and playing are all folded neatly into the school day.

The number of hours a child spends in school correlates with his age. For an 8-year-old in Borough Park, the school day will end at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. A boy training to become a bar mitzvah might spend two nights a week studying until 7 p.m. The oldest boys go till midnight. Girls, who attend separate schools, have shorter days, returning home to help their mothers cook and clean. They don’t have bat mitzvahs.

A yeshiva education in Borough Park costs parents about $400 per child per month, according to Friedlander.

“With six or seven children, the bulk of the income goes toward providing children with a Jewish education,” he said.

Borough Park children spend most of their waking hours at school, but their home lives are no less regimented. Very few families in Borough Park have a television; in fact, Leiby Kletzky may have watched a rare TV show at his accused killer’s apartment hours before his own death. Some families keep computers in their homes for business purposes, but parents lock them away in home offices when not in use. Because of this, Borough Park kids have little understanding of the pop culture that saturates the lives of their secular counterparts. Many young boys play baseball or basketball. But some of the most strictly observant may have no clue who Derek Jeter or LeBron James is.

In summertime, the streets of Borough Park are alternately quiet or clamorous, depending on where the kids are. Most children spend several weeks of the summer at sleepaway camps in the Catskills. Others attend religious day camps that include several hours of study, but also trips to the zoo or ice-skating rink.

Some Orthodox leaders have questioned the value of the lax summertime schedule, calling it a waste of an opportunity to further the children’s religious education. On July 17, outside Etzee’s Kids clothing store on 13th Avenue, a woman was handing out a publication about the Messiah. It included an article that admonished, “There is no taking a vacation from Torah study.”

But even a life so highly focused on religion generates commerce and its amiable companions, window shopping and street life. Elsewhere on the busy avenue, rows of stores cater to the community’s Orthodox lifestyle: wig stores for married women, Judaica stores brimming with candle sticks and prayer books, and kosher ice cream shops.

The children’s clothing boutiques, which seem to occupy every third building, are the most riotous of the stores. Racks overflowing with discount garments crowd the sidewalks: shin-length black skirts and long-sleeve shirts for the girls, and button-down white shirts and black slacks for the boys. Canvas signs advertise the goods inside: “Fine children’s wear for Shabbos, weekday, camp wear.”

Inside Bencraft Hatters, the salesman picks up the hat now meant for Yochanan and holds it between his fists as if showing a driving student how to place his hands on the steering wheel.

“Whenever you put it on, make sure to roll down the brim,” he said. “Think 10 o’clock to 3 o’clock.”

Yochanan puts it back on his head.

“You are not the smallest guy, but you are not the biggest guy,” the salesman said. “You are going to grow a lot.”

This article originally appeared in the Forward newspaper. To read more, please go to http://forward.com.

Leiby Kletzky’s alleged killer reportedly tried to kidnap other boys


The man charged in the murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky reportedly tried to kidnap other boys.

A woman who lives three doors from Levi Aron in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn told the New York Post over the weekend that the confessed killer tried to kidnap her son in the last two years, but that she screamed, scaring him away.

The iPad news publication The Daily reported that Aron tried and failed to kidnap another boy a week before the Leiby Kletzky murder.

Aron likely will be indicted next week on murder and kidnapping charges, an unnamed source in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office told the NY1 television station.

His attorney reportedly said Aron hears voices. He underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation over the weekend.

The family of the boy, which is sitting shiva in its Brooklyn home, has refused to make any public statements, but left a note outside its building which read, in part, “From the depths of our mourning hearts, thank you.”

Aron was arraigned July 13 on charges of murder and kidnapping. Leiby apparently struggled against Aron as he allegedly was being suffocated; scratch marks were found on Aron’s arms and wrists, according to reports.

Despite a confession to police, Aron pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Aron allegedly kidnapped Leiby after he asked for directions while walking home from day camp by himself for the first time. He later allegedly killed the boy and dismembered his body.

Body of Brooklyn youngster Leiby Kletzky found, suspect arrested


The body of an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who disappeared while walking home from camp was found, and at least one suspect was taken into custody.

Leiby Kletzky had been missing since Monday. Part of his dismembered body reportedly was found Wednesday morning in a dumpster in Brooklyn and the rest was discovered inside the Brooklyn apartment of a suspect, who was arrested and is being questioned by police.

Police had checked the dumpster since its lid was open, the New York Daily News reported.

New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind told the newspaper that the suspected killer is Jewish. The Daily News reported that three suspects are in custody.

The discovery of the boy’s body comes after a massive search for the boy which included police and hundreds of volunteers, most from the Orthodox community. Leiby went missing after walking home from camp for the first time; he was supposed to meet his parents three blocks from the camp, halfway from his home.

The boy reportedly was seen on surveillance videos following the man who was later arrested.