Tankleff, witness meet for the first time


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8:19 PM EST, January 3, 2008

The doubts began creeping in as Martin Tankleff lost appeal after appeal.

Karlene Kovacs, the first witness to come forward and say another man told her he was responsible for the deaths of Tankleff's parents, said she began to wonder: "Maybe I didn't hear what I thought I heard."

Last month an appeals court overturned Tankleff's 1990 conviction. Yesterday, after Suffolk prosecutors said they were dropping all charges against him, Kovacs met Tankleff for the first time at a midtown Manhattan news conference. After hugging him, she said, "I know what I heard. I believe in myself again."

What she said she heard bolstered Tankleff's contention that his parents' slayings involved his father's business partner, Jerard Steuerman, who owed Seymour Tankleff $500,000 and fled to California after the killings. And it gave Tankleff's defense team hope of finding more witnesses, said Jay Salpeter, a private investigator for Tankleff.

It was Easter night in 1991, and Kovacs was having dinner at the home of Joseph Creedon, a drug debt enforcer who was dating her then-boyfriend's sister. Later, as the couples smoked a marijuana joint, Kovacs said Creedon began talking about the 1988 killings of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff in Belle Terre.

According to Kovacs' sworn affidavit in 1994, Creedon said "something about hiding behind trees and bushes at the Tankleff house" and that he was with someone named "Steuerman."

Kovacs' statement was not enough to get Martin Tankleff's conviction overturned. But in 2003, Tankleff's defense team turned up about two dozen other witnesses who corroborated her statement and added to it. They included Glenn Harris -- who said he drove Creedon and another man, Peter Kent, to Tankleff's house the night of the murders.

Creedon, Steuerman and Kent have all denied under oath any involvement in the killings.

Kovacs kept Creedon's admission a secret for three years. But the secret nagged at her and her husband, Andy, said he encouraged her to "finally get it off her chest."

Since she gave the affidavit, Kovacs, 43, of St. James, said the case is never far from her mind. "It's something you never forget," she said. "What did I have to do with this? It was two different worlds coming together, and I was caught in the middle."