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NY investigating DA's handling of 1988 murder
By KAREN MATTHEWS
4:38 PM EST, December 31, 2007
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New York state investigators are probing how police and prosecutors handled the 1988 bludgeoning and stabbing deaths of a couple whose son served 17 years in prison for their murders before being released last week.
The state Commission on Investigation will take a broad look at the police investigation that led to Martin Tankleff's 1990 conviction and how Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota's office dealt with the emergence of new witnesses in 2003 who supported his claims of innocence, commission Chairman Alfred Lerner said.
"We're going to look at the whole thing," Lerner told Newsday in Sunday's editions.
He said the commission has been gathering evidence for a year and will issue a report in the next five to six months.
Tankleff was released on $1 million bond after an appeals court ordered a new trial on Dec. 21.
Spota has not decided whether to retry the case and has not been contacted by the commission, a spokesman said Monday.
Tankleff, 36, was freed at a bail hearing Thursday in Riverhead, 75 miles east of Manhattan. Since then he has been spending quiet time with the relatives who supported him throughout his imprisonment, said Lonnie Soury, a family spokesman.
"He's learning to use a computer and a cell phone and he's beginning to work on his case for complete exoneration," Soury said.
In throwing out his conviction, the Appellate Division said new evidence suggested someone else might have killed Seymour and Arlene Tankleff in their Long Island home.
Tankleff's supporters have long accused the police of coercive interrogation tactics, and they accused prosecutors of ignoring and suppressing evidence.
The state commission is taking a special interest in the case as a follow-up to its investigation into Suffolk County law enforcement in the 1980s, which found widespread misconduct among police and prosecutors.
One officer named in the panel's 1989 report, K. James McCready, became the lead detective in the Tankleff case. The report cited him as having lied as a witness at another trial.
Spota, the current district attorney, represented McCready both as a private lawyer and as an attorney for the police union. Spota has said his representation of McCready was not a conflict of interest.
Tankleff was 17 when his parents were bludgeoned and stabbed on Sept. 7, 1988. His mother was dead; his father was wounded and died weeks later.
Detectives falsely told the teen that his father had awoken from a coma and named him as the killer. At that point Tankleff wondered aloud whether he might have "blacked out" and committed the crimes.
Police said Tankleff confessed to attacking his parents, but he quickly withdrew the confession and refused to sign a statement they had prepared.
The teenager suggested that a partner in his father's bagel business could be the killer. He noted that the partner owed Seymour Tankleff hundreds of thousands of dollars and had been the last guest at the Tankleff home for a poker game the night before.
The business partner, Jerry Steuerman, was never charged and has denied involvement in the crimes.
Tankleff was convicted and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.
Over the years, private detectives working on Tankleff's behalf turned up witnesses who implicated Steuerman and others.
Jay Salpeter, a retired NYPD detective who has worked as an investigator for Tankleff, said Monday that he has met with staff members from the commission and discussed his findings with them.
"Until the case is finalized with a new trial or some sort of agreement with the district attorney's office I'm still proceeding with my investigation," he said.
The commission has no enforcement powers but can subpoena witnesses and can recommend the appointment of a special prosecutor, something Tankleff's supporters have pressed for.