On November 5, 1983, 58-year-old Ada Jankowski was raped and stabbed to death on the grounds of an elementary school in Miramar, Florida after leaving a bar with a man named Anthony Martinez. Police said she was stabbed 29 times.
On December 28, 1983, 15-year-old Anthony Caravella was arrested for a failing to appear in juvenile court on a grand theft charge. While in custody, he was questioned about the murder. Caravella, who had an IQ of 67, ultimately gave four recorded statements to police—none of them the same —implicating himself in the murder.
Not only were the statements different, but they conflicted with the evidence. Caravella told police at first that the crime was committed by three other juveniles. Then he said that he had committed the crime and had hit the victim over the head with a Pepsi bottle when in fact she had been raped, strangled and stabbed. He called the victim a “girl,” despite her age, and said she was taller than him when she was 8 inches shorter. He said the victim’s pants were completely removed, when they were partially on. He said the victim’s shoes were both off, when one was still on.
On August 3, 1984, Caravella, who had turned 16, was convicted by a jury, almost solely on the basis of his statements to police. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. His attorneys contended that Caravella was beaten and threatened by police until he confessed. Caravella was sentenced to life in prison.
In May of 2001, attorneys for Caravella persuaded Broward County prosecutors to agree to test physical evidence from the crime, including several hairs found on the victim, a T-shirt, a steak knife and a vaginal swab.
In November 2001, authorities reported that tests were inconclusive on the rape kit as well as fingernail scrapings. Broward County lab analysts said they could not find any sperm.
In 2002, while prosecutors were reviewing the evidence, they came across a tape of a telephone call made to a detective in the case from a friend of Caravella’s who said that he took part in the murder with Caravella. At the time, the friend was questioned further and denied involvement.
Defense attorneys contended the tape was never turned over prior to Caravella’s trial.
Despite the inclusive results of the Broward County lab analysis, the evidence was later sent to Dr. Edward Blake, a DNA expert in California, who was able to isolate sperm and in September 2009, authorities said that Caravella was eliminated as the source of sperm found in the victim’s body.
On September 10, 2009, with the agreement of prosecutors, Caravella was released from prison while the state of Florida attempted to duplicate Blake’s test results. When the results were confirmed, the prosecution dismissed the charges on March 25, 2010.
The case was re-opened and investigators began focusing on Anthony Martinez, the man last seen with Jankowski. In November 2010, Martinez, 44, died of a heart attack in upstate New York. A family member said at the time that authorities had informed them that DNA from the crime scene was a match or partial match to Martinez’s DNA.
In June, 2011, a wrongful conviction suit was filed on behalf of Caravella against the Broward County Sheriff's Office, the city of Miramar, and several former officers who, the lawsuit alleges, lied and hid evidence. In March 2013, a jury awarded Caravella $7 million in damages. The award was upheld by a federal appeals court in January 2015.
– Maurice Possley