The New York Times
May 20, 2004
Judge Grants Hearing to Man Convicted in Parents' Murder

[A] prisoner from Long Island who claims he was wrongly convicted of murdering his parents won the right yesterday to a court hearing on whether to overturn the verdict based on new evidence.

Ruling in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead, Judge Stephen L. Braslow granted the hearing to the prisoner, Martin Tankleff, who was 17 at the time of the crime and has been in prison since 1990.

Because prosecutors dispute the validity of the new evidence, Judge Braslow said a hearing would be required for him to decide whether to uphold or overturn the jury verdicts.

A defense lawyer, Barry J. Pollack, said, "We're looking forward to having the evidence heard in court, which is what we've been asking for all along."

Mr. Tankleff's parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, were fatally bludgeoned and slashed in their luxurious waterfront home in Belle Terre in 1988. Mr. Tankleff said he awoke and found the carnage.

Mr. Tankleff's convictions were based on a disputed confession that he never signed and has disavowed. A Suffolk police detective has acknowledged tricking Mr. Tankleff, saying that his father had regained consciousness and named him as the attacker, which never happened. Investigators pressured the son, suggesting that he had blacked out and repressed the memory of the crime.

The physical evidence did not match the confession. The supposed weapons, a kitchen knife and barbell, were clean. Mr. Tankleff had no scratches or bruises and no blood or skin under his nails.

The real culprits, Mr. Tankleff said from the start, were involved with his father's estranged business partner, Jerard Steuerman. He owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Seymour Tankleff and was the last of several poker players to leave the house on the night of the attacks.

A week later, with the wounded father in the hospital, Mr. Steuerman faked his death and fled to California, using an alias and shaving his beard. He denied involvement in the murders, and the police said they never considered him a suspect.

Among the new evidence is Glenn Harris's statement that he drove Joseph Creedon and Peter Kent to and from the Tankleff house that night. Mr. Harris said he thought they were planning a burglary. All three have criminal records. Mr. Creedon was involved with the Steuerman family, but he and Mr. Kent denied involvement in the murders.

The Harris story dovetails with a statement from Karlene Kovacs, who said Mr. Creedon had told her that he was involved in the murders.

In addition, Mr. Tankleff's lawyers said in court filings that an unidentified witness recently heard Mr. Steuerman say he had "cut their throats," referring to the Tankleffs.

The defense needs to show the "the probability that the jury, having heard the new evidence, would have reached a different conclusion," Mr. Pollack said. "We believe the evidence easily reaches that standard."

If the verdicts were overturned, Mr. Tankleff could be prosecuted in a second trial. The lawyers said they believed that if that happened, he would be acquitted.