Tankleff, team push for videotaped confessions


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8:15 PM EST, January 3, 2008

Martin Tankleff and his defense team pressed Thursday for legislation requiring police interrogations to be videotaped to safeguard against false confessions like the one he says led to his conviction in 1990.

At a midtown news conference, Barry Scheck, director of the Manhattan-based Innocence Project, touted a State Assembly bill that would mandate the taping of confessions in felony cases.

The bill passed the Assembly last year but then was bottled up in a conference committee and did not become law.

"This is something that we need and Marty's case is going to make the difference," Scheck said, adding that if the trickery police used to obtain Tankleff's confession had been videotaped, "it would have been clear that confession is just full of impossible lies."

Tankleff was convicted in 1990 of brutally bludgeoning and stabbing his parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff. On Dec. 21, a state appeals court overturned his conviction, and prosecutors say they will drop all charges on Jan. 18.

The original prosecution was based largely on a confession Martin Tankleff gave the day of the slayings, after several hours of interrogation. One of the detectives tricked Tankleff, then 17, into believing his father had awakened from a coma and accused him of the attacks. Tan kleff initially said his father must have been confused but then he asked police if he could have killed his parents while being "blacked out."

They said yes, and Tankleff then gave a rambling confession that he later refused to sign and recanted that day. A jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 50 years to life. He served more than 17 years.

As new evidence emerged that others could be responsible for the Tankleff killings, the case was held up as an example of how suspects can confess to crimes they did not commit.

Assemb. Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn), who sponsored the bill Tankleff's team advocated, said that New York State Police videotape all traffic stops, putting to rest most allegations of police misconduct.

"It's hard to understand why we're not doing it everywhere," he said. "We still rely on the same old thing when it comes to interrogation of suspects."

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice supports videotaping interrogations "whenever possible," spokesman Eric Phillips said. A spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota did not return calls.

Ray Griffin, a Suffolk police detective and president of the detectives union, said his organization had not taken a position on Lentol's bill. Suffolk police often ask a suspect after he's confessed if he wants to be videotaped, but Griffin said many defendants are uncomfortable with that.

"It puts the detective in an uncomfortable position. He's trying to get to the facts and he's trying to make the individual as comfortable as possible," Griffin said. "I think the system right now is working."