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BY ZACHARY R. DOWDY
Newsday Staff Writer
8:35 PM EDT, June 30, 2008
Hushed gasps of elation resounded through Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle's Riverhead courtroom Monday as supporters of Martin Tankleff -- who have held their breath for nearly two decades waiting for his exoneration -- barely restrained their joy as a prosecutor moved to drop murder charges.
The four-minute proceeding -- where state Assistant Attorney General Ben Rosenberg said he would not re-prosecute Tankleff, who was convicted in 1990 of the Sept. 7, 1988 slayings of his parents -- made many in the courtroom smile. But some were also frustrated.
Tankleff's aunt, Ruth Tankleff, 84, said the dismissal falls short of a full exoneration.
"We're hoping for just a little bit more," she said. "We just want them to say that Marty's innocent beyond anything."
Still, to many supporters of Martin Tankleff, 36, who has become a hero for critics of the criminal justice system -- and Suffolk's in particular -- the announcement marked a victory against a formidable legal system.
"We're ecstatic," said Ron Falbee of Westbury, Tankleff's cousin, after they returned home. "The fact that Marty is innocent is old news to us."
Tankleff arrived there, where he has lived since being released from prison, shortly after 5 p.m. A clutch of white, helium-filled balloons left by a neighbor were tied to a railing on the front porch.
"I'm overwhelmed," said Karlene Kovacs of St. James, who was in court and had submitted an affidavit in the early 1990s implicating Joseph Creedon of Selden after, she testified, she heard him brag at a party about being in bushes outside Arlene and Seymour Tankleff's Belle Terre home on the night the couple was killed. "Now let's get the real guys that did it."
Rosenberg, however, explained in court papers why no one else would be prosecuted. And in court, he said there was some evidence against Tankleff for the murders -- just not enough to prove his guilt.
State Sen. Eric Schneiderman, who is holding hearings to explore criminal justice reforms, including requiring police to videotape interrogations, said justice was done.
"Marty was convicted on the basis of a coerced confession, and served 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit," Schneiderman said in a release. "This gross miscarriage of justice is shocking, but unfortunately it is not unique."
Staff writers Luis Perez and Carl MacGowan contributed to this story.
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