Former Miramar police officers sued

Former Miramar police officers William Mantesta, from left, George Pierson and Bill Guess were sued in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. Attorneys for Anthony Caravella say they coerced the 15-year-old, who had an IQ of 67, into falsely confessing to a rape and murder in 1983. He spent nearly 26 years in prison before DNA testing set him free. (Susan Stocker / February 19, 2013)

Defending themselves against allegations that they framed a mentally challenged 15-year-old for a murder, four former police officers are telling jurors that it was his own fault for confessing.

The officers and their lawyers, who also represent the city of Miramar and the Broward Sheriff's Office against a civil suit filed on Anthony Caravella's behalf, are also suggesting that he could have had something to do with the 1983 rape and homicide.

Caravella, now 44, was freed from prison in September 2009 when DNA testing excluded him as the source of any physical evidence from the victim.

Caravella gave four taped statements to police in late 1983 and early 1984. He started out saying he saw three young men kill Ada Cox Jankowski, but eventually said he alone killed her.

The officers denied any suggestion that they fed him details of the crimes, beat or coerced him.

Barbara Heyer, Caravella's lawyer, spent days questioning retired officers, Geeorge Pierson and William Mantesta, and suggesting to the jury that they were worse than incompetent and didn't follow the most basic rules of criminal investigation — even by 1983's standards.

Among her allegations were that the detectives ignored major holes in Caravella's confession, did little or nothing to check out his story, mishandled evidence in the capital murder case, left important or inconvenient information out of their reports, and didn't pursue better leads against two more likely suspects.

The officers' defense has portrayed Caravella as a troubled teen who got arrested as a juvenile for thefts, possibly burglaries and an incident where they claim he pointed a weapon at another teen. But the city has not been able to produce documents detailing any arrests — other than for the murder — and have relied instead on testimony from the officers, who said their memories were vague. Heyer said they improperly blamed minor crimes on him.

Jurors heard old testimony from Caravella's now-deceased mother, who had said he served time in a juvenile facility in Okeechobee and that a social worker told him shortly before the murder that he might be treated as an adult if he got into more trouble.

Caravella's lawyer said the officers coerced him into saying what they wanted to hear by promising he could get a female friend out of trouble. The officers confirmed the girl was released after Caravella started helping them but denied that was the result of any deal they made with Caravella.

One of the officers, George Pierson testified this week that he thought Caravella, who experts said had an IQ of 67, was of average intelligence. A second officer, William Mantesta, told jurors on Thursday: "I don't believe Mr. Caravella was mentally challenged."

pmcmahon@tribune.com, 954-356-4533 or Twitter @SentinelPaula