Tankleff Appeal Allowed
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Staff Writer

February 23, 1994

Two months after an unusually divided appellate court decision that upheld the double-murder conviction of Martin Tankleff, one of the two dissenting justices has given the Belle Terre man permission to appeal to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

In December, a panel of Appellate Division justices in Brooklyn voted, in a 3-2 decision, to affirm Tankleff's 1990 convictions for the bludgeoning and slashing deaths of his parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, in the couple's waterfront home Sept. 7, 1988.

But, last week, attorneys involved with Tankleff's appeal were notified that Associate Justice Cornelius J. O'Brien had taken the unusual step of signing an order granting Tankleff leave to appeal to the higher court, citing a question of law.

"This is one step closer to justice prevailing," said Commack attorney Robert Gottlieb, who represented Tankleff at trial and is involved in the appeal. "Statistically, it's very, very unusual," Gottlieb said of O'Brien's action.

The Suffolk district attorney's chief assistant, Mark Cohen, agreed that the move was unusual. But he was quick to point out that the order does not affect Tankleff's 1990 conviction by a Suffolk jury and that all it does is permit the Court of Appeals to hear Tankleff's case.

"The decision means nothing more than the case goes to the next court," Cohen said. "As in the appeallate division, we are confident that the Court of Appeals will again confirm the conviction."

Martin Tankleff, now 22, is at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora serving 50 years to life.

Tankleff was 17 when he confessed to police that he murdered his parents. He was convicted after a lengthy and emotional trial and his appeal involved allegations that police unfairly tricked Tankleff into confessing by staging a phone call to the hospital where his father was taken, and telling him that his father had fingered him in the assault.

The defense arguments split the four-judge Appellate Division panel that heard the case in September, requiring that a fifth justice be appointed to review the trial record and cast the deciding vote.

The dissenting justices, O'Brien and Geraldine Eiber, wrote a separate opinion saying that they would have suppressed Tankleff's confession, dismissed the indictment, and at the least, sent the case back for a new trial.

The dissenting justices said that, based upon the circumstances, and particularly Tankleff's age, he was subjected to "custodial interrogation" without the benefit of his rights being read, and therefore his confession should be suppressed. The justices went on to say that, in "the absence of any other evidence connecting the defendant to the murders, except for the confession which he disavowed at trial, the indictments should be dismissed."

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