Incident Date: November 4, 1983
Jurisdiction: Seventeenth Circuit
Charge: First-Degree Murder, Rape
Conviction: First-Degree Murder, Rape
Year of Conviction: 1984
Exoneration Date: March 25, 2010
Sentence Served: 26 Years
Real perpetrator found? Yes
Contributing Causes: False Confessions/Admissions
Compensation? Not Yet
On March 25, 2010, Anthony Caravella was exonerated after post-conviction DNA testing proved his innocence of a 1983 rape and murder in Broward County. At the time of his release, Caravella had spent 26 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
The victim, a 58-year old woman, was sexually assaulted, strangled with a ligature from behind, and stabbed 29 times as she walked home from a local bar. Her body was discovered by an adult by-passer that morning on November 4, 1983 in a field outside Miramar Elementary School in Miramar, Broward County, Florida. Initially, the police had no leads and made no arrests.
Anthony Caravella was arrested on an unrelated juvenile charge on December 28, 1983. He was 15 years old at the time of the arrest with an IQ of 67. Caravella was a known to law enforcement as he was often in trouble for theft crimes and law enforcement officers had used Caravella to close unsolved burglaries because they knew he would admit to anything, even crimes he didn’t commit.
Caravella gave four recorded statements and one oral statement made over a five-day period while he was in custody on the juvenile charge. Each statement was different from the others and drastically contradicted the physical evidence in the case. These statements were made on the backdrop of suggestive and coercive interrogation tactics by law enforcement.
Law enforcement threatened Caravella with the arrest and prosecution of his friend, exchanged face-to-face visitation with and leniency for his friend for admissions by Caravella, and beat, pushed, and slapped Caravella. Additionally, when two detectives arrived at the home of Caravella’s friend to arrest him, they closed Caravella off in the garage and hit him repeatedly with a phone book.
With each statement, Caravella’s theory of events was consistently at odds with the actual physical evidence and circumstances of the crime. Thus, detectives weaved accurate facts into Caravella’s statements through the use of very suggestive, leading questions. Caravella admitted a greater role in the murder/rape with each statement and finally confessed that he committed the crime alone.
He was indicted for first-degree murder and sexual battery in the death of the victim.
The State’s case rested almost exclusively on Caravella’s statements. Additionally, a serologist testified that semen was present in the victim’s vagina. Caravella was convicted of first-degree murder. Although the prosecution sought the death penalty, he was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2001, after the passage of Florida’s new post-conviction DNA testing law, Caravella wanted to seek DNA testing of evidence in his case. Diane Cuddihy of the Public Defender’s Office in Broward County was appointed to represent him. Caravella entered into an agreement with the state and the circuit court ordered DNA testing on several items, including vaginal, oral, and rectal swabs and slides from the victim. On October 18, 2001, the Broward Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab submitted a report stating that it did not obtain a DNA profile from the sperm fractions found in the victim’s vaginal, oral, or rectal swabs or smear slides.
On March 31, 2009, the court again entered stipulated orders for DNA testing, this time directing the evidence be sent to Forensic Science Associates, an independent laboratory, for further DNA testing at Caravella’s expense. On August 27, 2009, Forensic Science Associates submitted a report stating that a DNA profile of the male perpetrator was retrieved from the sperm on the vaginal swabs, which conclusively eliminated Caravella as the donor of the sperm during the rape/murder of the victim. Based on this evidence, the state agreed Cuddihy’s motion to conditionally release Caravella on September 10, 2009, pending the state’s efforts to confirm the DNA result at a lab of their choosing. Caravella was forced to wear a GPS device on his ankle and obey certain restrictions as part of his supervised release.
Over six months later, after confirming the previous DNA results, the state agreed to vacate Caravella’s conviction and drop all charges against him related to the 1983 rape murder. Anthony Caravella was officially exonerated on March 25, 2010 and he continues to reside in Broward County, Florida.