New grand jury weighs evidence in Tankleff murders



February 26, 2008

A newly empaneled grand jury is considering evidence in the murders of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, state prosecutors said yesterday at the latest court appearance of the slain couple's son.

Martin Tankleff, 36, was released from prison in December after serving 17 years for the 1988 murders of his mother and father. An appellate court overturned his 1990 conviction in December, ruling that there was considerable new evidence that somebody other than Tankleff might have committed the crimes, but left his indictment intact. The state attorney general's office took over the case as a special prosecutor last month.

Ben Rosenberg, lead counsel for the attorney general, confirmed in the Riverhead courtroom of State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle that prosecutors have assembled a new grand jury in Suffolk County, but did not disclose any details. He requested and received another four months to determine how to go forward with the pending charges against Martin Tankleff, who will return to court June 16.

Tankleff's attorneys noted that because Tankleff already has a grand jury indictment pending against him for the murders, prosecutors could not direct the grand jury to consider evidence against him.

However, "it would be a perfectly appropriate use of the grand jury to gather evidence against other individuals," said Tankleff's attorney, Barry Pollack of Washington, D.C.

Tankleff's attorneys have long held that Seymour Tankleff's former business partner, Jerry Steuerman - who was in heavy financial debt to Seymour - was behind the murders, along with hired hit men Joseph Creedon and Peter Kent. Suffolk police never brought charges against the three men, who all deny any involvement.

Kent's attorney, Thomas Lavallee of Hauppauge, said his client had not been contacted and Kent is "confident" that the grand jury would not bring charges against him.

Creedon's attorney, Anthony La Pinta, of Hauppauge, said he learned yesterday of the new grand jury and would not comment on whether prosecutors reached out to his client.

Karlene Kovacs, who said in a 1994 affidavit that she had heard Creedon speak of being at the Tankleff home on the night of the murders with "a Steuerman," said that investigators from the attorney general's office spoke to her at the proceeding yesterday and asked for her contact information, saying they wanted to speak with her soon.

"I was expecting it sooner or later," she said.

Several other key figures in the case, including retired Suffolk Det. K. James McCready, who took Tankleff's unsigned confession, and Creedon's son and former girlfriend, could not be reached for comment.

Tankleff's relatives and attorneys said they hoped all charges against him would be dropped when he returns to court in June.

Staff writer Luis Perez contributed to this story.