Court Upholds Disciplinary Action Against Tankleff
By The Associated Press

January 8, 2004, 3:54 PM EST

Albany -- A state court Thursday upheld a prison disciplinary action against a Long Island killer whose rule violations were discovered when a letter he tried to send Newsweek magazine was returned for insufficient postage.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that state prison officials did not violate Martin Tankleff's rights by searching the envelope he tried to send to the magazine late in 2000.

Officials determined by the materials that Tankleff had used a computer in the law library of the Clinton Correctional Facility to assemble the letter. They also found he had stored personal materials on the computer's hard drive and used computer equipment to design and print his own greeting card, both also violations of prison rules.

Tankleff had argued he didn't know those uses of the computer were against the rules, so he should not face punishment. The court Thursday said ignorance of the rules did not excuse his misconduct.

The five-judge panel also rejected Tankleff's arguments that his mail was improperly opened by prison personnel. The court said regulations specifically call for the inspection of any mail that is returned for insufficient postage.

"The ruling affirms that inmates do not have an absolute right of privacy when it comes to mail," said state prisons spokesman James Flateau.

Some mail to and from prisoners is opened to make sure it is not carrying contraband or other objectionable materials, Flateau said. All packages sent to inmates are searched, according to the prison spokesman.

As his punishment for misusing the prison computer, Tankleff was confined to his cell for 23 hours a day for 15 days, lost prison commissary and telephone access for 15 days and permanently lost his job as a paralegal in Clinton's law library.

Tankleff, 32, is serving a 50-year-to-life sentence in Clinton, in Dannemora near the New York-Canadian border, for the 1988 deaths of his mother Arlene and father Seymour in their home in the upscale community of Belle Terre, Suffolk County.

Tankleff has long maintained his innocence and nearly two dozen family members say they believe him. His lawyers have been seeking to vacate his conviction, contending that they have new evidence that could exonerate him.

But Suffolk County prosecutors oppose reopening the case.

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