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Judge agrees to hearing in LI son's bid for new murder trial
By FRANK ELTMAN
Associated Press Writer
May 19, 2004, 5:46 PM EDT
RIVERHEAD, N.Y. -- A Long Island man in prison for the 1988 murders of his parents won a court victory on Wednesday when a Suffolk County Court judge said he will schedule a hearing on whether there is sufficient cause to order a new trial.
Attorneys initially filed papers last fall seeking a new trial for Martin Tankleff, who was 17 years old when his parents were found slain in their home in Belle Terre, a well-to-do neighborhood on Long Island's north shore.
Tankleff was convicted of murder after a high-profile trial in 1990 and is serving 50 years to life at the Great Meadow correctional facility in upstate Comstock.
His mother, Arlene Tankleff, was found bludgeoned to death in her bedroom; her husband, Seymour Tankleff, was viciously stabbed and left to die in his study.
Martin Tankleff said he discovered the bodies and called 911. Police and prosecutors claimed he killed his parents because he was angry over a variety of slights, including being made to drive a "crummy old Lincoln."
His attorneys contend they have evidence from a new witness who acknowledged he drove two men to the Tankleff house on the night of the slayings. The witness, Glenn Harris, said that he also drove the men away from the home and that he later saw one of the pair, Peter Kent, burn his clothes, according to the papers, filed in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead.
Another witness said the second man, Joseph Creedon, confessed that he was involved in the killings, the court papers said. Creedon and Kent have denied any involvement.
Harris initially said he would not testify without immunity, but when he recently dropped that stipulation, prosecutors consented to hear what he has to say at the upcoming hearing.
In his decision ordering a hearing, Judge Stephen Braslow noted that "while there were inconsistencies" in affidavits submitted by the defense team, "the possibility that these individuals may have been at the Tankleff house at the time the murders were committed should be explored in a hearing."
Braslow will meet with prosecutors and defense attorneys on Friday to set a date for the hearing, which is not expected until July.
Defense attorney Bruce Barket said the news "continues to be good for Marty."
"We're looking forward to the hearing and are confident that once all the evidence is presented he'll be exonerated," Barket said.
Barket predicted that prosecutors may opt to not retry his client once the judge hears that evidence.
Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato would not predict what his office would do after the hearing. "It depends on what happens," Lato said. "If he loses, we don't even have to worry about it. If he wins, it depends on how compelling a case they make."
Tankleff initially made a statement to police claiming responsibility for the killings. Although he later recanted, it remained the most damning evidence against him.
Tankleff's attorneys also claim their client was lied to and browbeaten by detectives who never properly read him his rights. Police falsely told Tankleff his father had awakened from a coma and named him as the killer, the filing said.
Tankleff's attorneys also contend that investigators failed to investigate Seymour Tankleff's estranged business partner: The two men were the only people left in the house after a late-night poker game that ended just hours before the bodies were discovered.
Tankleff, who has already lost numerous appeals, is backed by about 20 relatives who say they believe he is innocent. His supporters have posted a Web site announcing the latest developments in the case and urging readers to speak out in his defense.
Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press