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The New York Times
April 16, 2004
Appeal Questions Role of Son and the Police in '88 Killing
By BRUCE LAMBERT
The case of a Long Island man who claims he was wrongly convicted of murdering his parents is a classic example of a false confession, two experts on police interrogation say.
Their views are cited in court papers being filed today by lawyers seeking to free Martin Tankleff, who was imprisoned for killing his mother and father in 1988, when he was 17.
Mr. Tankleff has denied guilt and accused the police of tricking him into a false admission. A retired detective, K. James McCready, later acknowledged lying to him, including saying that his wounded father had identified him as his attacker. Mr. McCready also wrote an admission, which Mr. Tankleff never signed and immediately disavowed.
That confession was erroneous, "coerced" and "inherently unreliable," said Dr. Richard J. Ofshe, a sociology professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has researched false confessions and testified in dozens of cases. Dr. Richard A. Leo, a criminology professor at the University of California at Irvine, called the confession "almost certainly false."
The Suffolk County district attorney's office, which opposes the Tankleff appeal, declined to comment until it reviews the brief.
From the start, Mr. Tankleff has implicated his father's former business partner, Jerard Steuerman, who owed hundreds of thousands of dollars and was the last person to leave the house that night. Mr. Steuerman has denied involvement.
Now a new witness, Glenn Harris, says he took two men to the house late that night. One had connections to the Steuermans and told people he had been involved in the killings, though he now denies it.
Dr. Ofshe said the police had used tactics like isolation and trickery, which can produce false confessions. They removed Mr. Tankleff from relatives, friends and lawyers, promising to take him to the hospital.
Instead, he was interrogated for hours in a small room. The police dismissed his denials. According to testimony, they also lied, saying that his hairs had been found on his mother's body and that a humidity test proved he had taken a shower to wash away the blood. They suggested that he had suppressed memory of the crime, and finally he relented.
None of the evidence fit, Mr. Tankleff's lawyers say. The confession said the weapons were a knife and dumbbell, but no blood was found on them, and medical experts found hammer wounds. The confession said Mr. Tankleff had washed off the blood, but none was found in the shower drain.
The confession said he fought with his mother, but he had no scratches or bruises and no blood or skin under his nails.
The confession said he first killed his mother in her bedroom, then attacked his father in the study. But according to court documents the father's blood was found in the bedroom, indicating the reverse order.
"These numerous discrepancies," Dr. Ofshe said, " strongly suggest that the narrative was not the product of Mr. Tankleff's personal knowledge of the crime."
1988 BELLE TERRE MURDERS
Son: Killer boasted
Convicted of slaying his parents, Martin Tankleff says he has evidence implicating father's former partner
BY ANDREW SMITH, STAFF WRITER
April 16, 2004
Jerry Steuerman, the former business partner of Seymour Tankleff, has admitted in recent months his role in killing Tankleff and his wife in 1988, according to legal papers that are to be filed today by Martin Tankleff, the son who was convicted of killing his parents.
Tankleff, 32, has been trying since October to get a new trial on the basis of evidence that his attorneys say prove his innocence. An investigator they hired found Glenn Harris, who said that he helped Joseph Creedon and Peter Kent commit the murders on behalf of Steuerman.
Now, Tankleff's team has found two people who say Steuerman has admitted his involvement, according to legal papers to be filed in Suffolk County County in Riverhead by defense attorney Bruce Barket of Garden City.
"After the media reported [in October] that Mr. Tankleff had filed for a new trial, Mr. Steuerman told two [people] that he 'cut their throats,' but at this point, given his age, he will be dead long before he has to serve any sentence," the papers say.
"The more that we dig, the more that we find that Marty is innocent and the actual culprits are guilty," Barket said.
A member of Steuerman's family said he would not comment. A spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney's office could not be reached for comment yesterday evening.
Creedon's attorney, Anthony LaPinta of Hauppauge, said his client had nothing to do with the murders of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff and will happily testify at any hearing that takes place.
"He welcomes the opportunity to face these false allegations," LaPinta said. "He cherishes the opportunity."
Kent has also said he wasn't involved.
Police and prosecutors have argued that Tankleff, at age 17, killed his parents in their Belle Terre home in retaliation for a variety of slights, including being made to drive a "crummy old Lincoln."
After reviewing the papers, Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow will decide whether to hold an evidentiary hearing, which could then lead to a new trial.
District Attorney Thomas Spota argued in December no trial should go forward based on what Harris said, because he was not a believable witness.
But Barket's papers argue that Spota's office ignored the fact that Creedon had boasted about the crime to others. Indeed, the district attorney's office found new people to whom Creedon had allegedly confessed, but concluded that Creedon had been taking credit for a crime he didn't commit.
"This conclusion is not only unsupported, it is truly extraordinary," Barket's papers say.
The district attorney argued that Creedon didn't commit the murder because his record of violent crime had no history of using knives. Barket argued that Tankleff had no history of using knives, either - or of any kind of violence, unlike Creedon.
Tankleff was convicted of the murders in 1990. He has served more than 13 years of a 50-years-to-life sentence.
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