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New York Times
February 26, 2008
By PAUL VITELLO
RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — Almost 19 years after the murders of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff in their Belle Terre home, a new grand jury has been impaneled to determine who might have killed the Long Island couple, a prosecutor said.
The revelation came on Monday during a court hearing for the Tankleffs’ son, Martin, who was provisionally freed from prison in December after serving 17 years for the crime.
Benjamin E. Rosenberg, the lead counsel in the office of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, did not indicate whether Martin H. Tankleff, 36, was still a potential defendant or if the grand jury would pursue others as suspects. He would not say where the grand jury had been convened.
At Mr. Rosenberg’s request, Justice Robert W. Doyle of the State Supreme Court gave the prosecutor until June 16 to decide what direction the inquiry would take.
In the meantime, Mr. Tankleff, who has been living in the Old Westbury home of a cousin, Ron Falbee, since his Dec. 27 release from prison, remained in a kind of legal limbo that Mr. Falbee described as not ideal but “certainly a better time than he was having in prison.” Mr. Tankleff has enrolled part time at Hofstra University.
Speaking on behalf of Mr. Tankleff, who on the advice of his lawyers did not answer questions, Mr. Falbee said he was confident that Mr. Tankleff would be exonerated. “For 20 years, we have always believed that somebody else was responsible for these crimes,” he said.
Mr. Tankleff, who had been serving a term of 50 years to life, was released on $1 million bail shortly after the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court overturned his 1990 conviction and granted him a new trial. The ruling cited evidence uncovered in the past four years implicating a former business partner of Seymour Tankleff, Jerard Steuerman, and several former convicts as potential suspects.
But rather than retry the case, the Suffolk County district attorney, Thomas J. Spota, whose office had fought Mr. Tankleff’s efforts to get a new trial, asked Governor Spitzer to appoint a special prosecutor. The governor appointed Mr. Cuomo in January; and since then, Mr. Rosenberg and his staff have been reviewing the more than 7,000 pages of court documents and trial transcripts, and have been subpoenaing witnesses to testify before the newly impaneled grand jury.
Under state law, the grand jury would not be able to indict Martin Tankleff because he is already under indictment. The original Suffolk County grand jury indictment in 1989 charging him with murdering his parents remains in effect until Mr. Tankleff is retried or the special prosecutor decides to seek the dismissal of that indictment.
Barry J. Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Tankleff, said that while his client would not be the grand jury’s focus, “it would be a perfectly appropriate use of the grand jury to gather evidence against other individuals.”
Mr. Tankleff was charged with the murders within hours after he called 911 on Sept. 7, 1988, to report that his parents had been slashed and attacked in their home. When the police arrived, his mother was already dead. His father was unconscious and would remain comatose for almost a month before dying.
After bringing Martin Tankleff, who was then 17, in for questioning, investigators told him — untruthfully — that his father had awakened and identified him as the attacker. Mr. Tankleff then confessed to the crime. He later argued that he had been coerced under extreme duress to make a false confession; and as proof he pointed to the fact that the details of his confession were at odds with the forensic evidence.