Martin Tankleff's first day of freedom


Saturday, December 29th 2007, 4:00 AM
Martin Tankleff Barcelo for News

Martin Tankleff

A steaming cup of coffee in hand, Martin Tankleff sat in his cousin's kitchen Friday morning and watched the sun come up.

He had tears in his eyes.

It was the first time in 17 years he had started a day as a free man, and he was savoring the simplest of pleasures.

"He had real sunnyside eggs for the first time in a really long time," his cousin, Ronald Falbee, told the Daily News.

"He's just smelling the fresh air and taking it all in."

Tankleff, 36, was released from prison Thursday after an appeals court tossed a 1990 conviction for the murder of his wealthy parents.

On Thursday, there was a press conference, and then a party - but yesterday was less of a whirlwind. "He got up at five o'clock this morning, made himself a cup of coffee and watched the sunrise - and had tears in his eyes while he was doing it," Falbee said.

Around 10:30 a.m., Tankleff left the Westbury, L.I., home, wearing the same gray sweater from the day before.

He headed to his lawyer Bruce Barket's Garden City office - where a large picture of Martin Luther King Jr. with the slogan "Free at Last" hangs on the wall.

There he began work on building the defense he will have to present if the Suffolk County district attorney retries him.

"Marty will probably be the lead paralegal in this case," Barket said, refusing to let his client speak while an indictment hangs over his head.

Tankleff's legal team is trying to prove that his father's business partner, Jerald Steuerman, ordered the killings.Tankleff's private investigator, Jay Salpeter, said new information comes in every day, and according to published reports the State Investigation Commission is looking into how Suffolk County authorities handled the case.

After Thursday's publicity, Salpeter said three potential witnesses called a tip line.

Relatives said Tankleff was not upset about spending his first full day of freedom in a law office.

"He's still very much talking about his case," said Falbee. "I would say that probably accounts for 65% to 70% of his conversation."

Falbee put up his house as collateral to secure $1 million bail for Tankleff, who is living there.

Most of Tankleff's relatives have crusaded for his release - with the exception of half-sister Shari Rother Mistretta. Mistretta, who refused comment on her brother's release, ended up with Tankleff's $3 million share of the parents' estate after he was convicted.

With the conviction overturned, it's unclear whether Tankleff would be entitled to the money.

"I'd take that case," said Jack Barnosky, a Long Island estate lawyer. "There may be some statute of limitations issue, but maybe you could get around them because of the special circumstances."

There's little question that Tankleff could use the money. He has no job and barely any worldly possessions.

"Marty has to start all over," Falbee said. "We have plans to do some shopping."

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