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The New York Times
October 3, 2003
Convict Was in Same Prison as New Witness in Killings
By BRUCE LAMBERT
ARDEN CITY, N.Y., Oct. 2 - A man who says he was wrongly convicted of killing his parents was in the same prison with the new witness who has come forward with information that may lead to his release, an investigator said Thursday.
But their being in the same prison was a coincidence, said the investigator, Jay Salpeter, a former New York City homicide detective hired by the defense. He said the two men were in separate sections of the prison and never met or talked.
Lawyers for the man seeking his freedom, Martin Tankleff, filed a motion in Suffolk County Court on Thursday to vacate his conviction for the murders of his parents, Seymour and Arlene, in 1988. The Suffolk County district attorney's office said it would review the material.
Relatives and lawyers working for Mr. Tankleff's release held a news conference here to explain the new evidence that they say exonerates him and points to the real culprits.
The crucial new element is the admission of Glenn Harris that he was the getaway driver who took two men to the Tankleff home in Belle Terre the night of the attacks. He said he thought they were going to burglarize the house but realized that something more serious happened after one of the men went home and burned his clothes.
The motion says that those assailants were connected to Seymour Tankleff's estranged business partner, Jerry Steuerman, who owed hundreds of thousands of dollars, was in the Tankleff house for a poker game that night and fled to California, assuming an alias and shaving his beard. Martin Tankleff and the surviving relatives say that the police should have investigated Mr. Steuerman, who denied guilt at Martin Tankleff's trial and testified as a prosecution witness.
Mr. Salpeter said he found Mr. Harris's name by checking crime records for associates of people suspected of being involved in the Tankleff killings. Mr. Salpeter said he tracked Mr. Harris to the Clinton Correctional Center at Dannemora, where he was serving time for an unrelated burglary. Mr. Salpeter wrote and eventually visited him, and he spoke about what happened the night of the attacks.
During that visit, Mr. Salpeter said, he also spoke to Mr. Tankleff. The two inmates were briefly in the visiting area at the same time but did not talk with each other, Mr. Salpeter said. Prison authorities ascertained that the two had never been housed in the same section, and precautions were taken to keep them separate "to preserve the integrity" of Mr. Harris's statement, Mr. Salpeter said. "We didn't want anyone to be able to say that they concocted this in prison," he said.
Mr. Tankleff's conviction was based on a confession that he later retracted, saying he was manipulated while under duress after finding the bodies. According to court records in the case, detectives obtained the confession from Mr. Tankleff, who was 17, after insisting that he must have attacked his parents and blocked out the memory, and also telling him that his injured father had come out of a coma at the hospital and identified him as the assailant. That was a lie; the father died without regaining consciousness.
Seymour Tankleff's brother, Norman, and Arlene Tankleff's sister, Marcella Falbee, were among the supporters who said on Thursday that they never doubted Martin Tankleff's innocence.
"We never lost faith," said Ron Falbee, a cousin and former guardian of Martin and executor of the parents' estate. "We want to get Marty out; that's No. 1. But ultimately we want people responsible to pay for putting this family through hell."