Tankleff case gets appeals expert


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January 17, 2008

The team of special prosecutors assembled by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate the 1988 killings of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff includes one of the nation's top appellate attorneys.

Barbara Underwood, the state solicitor general and a former Yale law professor, will handle any appellate work for lead attorney Ben Rosenberg's team, according to Jeffrey Lerner, a spokesman for Cuomo's office. The team debuts today before state Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle. Underwood was acting solicitor general of the United States in early 2001.

The Tankleffs were beaten and stabbed in their Belle Terre home. Their son, Martin Tankleff, then 17 years old, was convicted of the murders in 1990 but the Appellate Division overturned that conviction last month based on evidence pointing toward other suspects marshaled by Jay Salpeter, a Great Neck-based investigator.

Tankleff attorney Bruce Barket of Garden City said Cuomo's office brought an expert like Underwood on board in case there are matters the team needs to appeal, but he doubted the state appellate division's decision would be one of them.

"My understanding is that they're going to conduct a factual investigation into the murders and the manner in which the murders were investigated and the manner in which the case was prosecuted," he said. "I would not expect the attorney general's office to even seek leave to appeal the appellate division's ruling."

The 30-day window for appealing that decision expires Sunday, Barket said.

Cuomo's appointment by Gov. Eliot Spitzer occurred less than a week before Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota was poised to drop the murder charges against Tankleff, who served 17 years in prison but was released on $1 million bail shortly after the appellate division's Dec. 21 ruling.

In a statement, Tankleff's family said: "The timing of the special prosecutor's appointment and the resulting delay in dismissing the charges against Marty prolongs the suffering of Marty and the rest of the victims' family, even while the obvious murder suspects walk the street."