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Broward man cleared by DNA still in jail

The Miami Herald
BY PAULA McMAHON, Sun Sentinel

Broward County, FL

Anthony Caravella is still in jail until the Florida Department of Children & Families approves his release.

Anthony Caravella spent a second night in the Broward County jail Wednesday because of a legal technicality, but should be released Thursday, his attorney said.

A Broward judge ordered his immediate release Tuesday after prosecutors requested that he be freed, at least temporarily, because a recent test excludes him as the source of DNA found on the body of a Miramar woman he was convicted of raping and murdering in 1983.

Caravella, 41, has served close to 26 years in prison. Because he was convicted of a sex offense as well as murder, state officials would not release him as the judge mandated.

The law requires the Florida Department of Children & Families to evaluate convicted sex offenders to determine whether they should be civilly committed after serving a prison sentence. Under the Jimmy Ryce Act, those offenders can be kept locked up after completing their prison terms if they are deemed a threat to the community.

LEGAL EVALUATION

"By law DCF is obligated to conduct this evaluation . . . we cannot waive the requirement,'' said Leslie Mann, the state agency's Broward spokeswoman. "This is a very extenuating circumstance . . . we are very, very sensitive to Mr. Caravella's situation, and we are really expediting this.''

The law requires DCF officials to review the person's legal and prison records, then make a recommendation to prosecutors in the county where the person was convicted. Prosecutors then decide whether to seek a civil commitment, which requires a trial.

Seeking to speed up Caravella's release, Broward prosecutors announced Wednesday that they would not try to hold Caravella regardless of what DCF's recommendation is.

"I think in light of the DNA casting some doubts on the conviction of Mr. Caravella, I wouldn't feel comfortable petitioning to civilly commit him . . . in all fairness to him,'' said Kristin Kanner, the Broward prosecutor in charge of Ryce Act cases.

Kanner said DCF officials usually get 18 months' notice before a prisoner is released. In emergency releases like Caravella's, she said DCF can detain the prisoner for an extra 72 hours.

FRUSTRATED

Caravella's public defender, Diane Cuddihy, spent Wednesday negotiating with state officials to have Caravella released. She said the DNA proves Caravella was wrongfully convicted and that Broward prosecutors' decision rendered void the requirement of a DCF evaluation.

She said she was frustrated that DCF and prison officials originally planned to drive Caravella three hours northwest to the town of Arcadia to do the evaluation.

By the end of office hours Wednesday and after a series of meetings that included DCF Secretary George Sheldon, the department said it would allow Caravella to remain in the Broward County jail in Fort Lauderdale and speed up his evaluation.

Caravella was "very disheartened and disappointed'' Cuddihy said Wednesday night. "But if there's one thing he's learned in 26 years in prison, it's that you have to follow the rules.''

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