Relatives Back Tankleff
By Robin Topping
Staff Writer

October 2, 2003, 8:10 PM EDT

Relatives of Martin Tankleff said Thursday they stand by the Belle Terre man convicted of murdering his parents 13 years ago and are not surprised at new evidence that, defense lawyers say, exonerates him and points to two other men as the real killers.

Family members, including his uncle, aunt and former legal guardian, gathered at a news conference in Garden City where defense attorneys announced they had given Suffolk prosecutors a sworn statement from an inmate who says he drove the killers to and from the home of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff the night of the murders.

"We never lost faith," said Ron Falbee, Martin Tankleff's former legal guardian and cousin, of Westbury. Police and prosecutors "never convinced us" of Tankleff's guilt.

Falbee and other family members said they had known about other evidence that exonerated Martin Tankleff -- now serving 50 years to life -- but the new statement from inmate Glenn Harris "tied it all together."

Norman Tankleff, Seymour Tankleff's brother, of East Meadow, said, "We always believed in Marty's innocence ... Outside of being a little spoiled, he was a loving member of the family." Marcella Alt Falbee, of Old Westbury, Arlene Tankleff's sister, said, "He's a jewel of a boy."

Absent from the press conference was Shari Rother, Martin Tankleff's half-sister, who, in the past, has said she believes he is guilty.

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota has said he will investigate and decide whether to join or oppose the defense motion to set aside the conviction. If prosecutors oppose the motion, a judge will decide whether to hold a hearing on whether Tankleff should receive a new trial.

Family members and defense lawyers have said the new evidence is compelling enough to warrant throwing out the conviction. But prosecutor Leonard Lato, the assistant district attorney Spota has assigned to look into the new evidence, said the office can't just throw out a conviction solely based on a sworn statement from a convicted burglar.

"When it comes down to making our decision, we can't do it based on a press conference," said Lato, who attended the conference as an observer. "The witnesses have to be interviewed, and will they take the Fifth or not testify? I don't know how it's going to turn out," he said.

The new evidence was uncovered by defense investigator Jay Salpeter, who tracked down Harris, now at Sing-Sing prison in Ossining. Harris is a co-defendant of Joseph Creedon, one of the two men who Harris said he drove to the Tankleff home the night the Tankleffs were murdered in September 1988.

Creedon, who lives in Suffolk, could not be reached for comment.

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