July 25, 2004

There are plenty of reasons to doubt Glenn Harris.

The 35-year-old has struggled with a crack addiction and rotated in and out of prison his entire adult life, relatives and prosecutors said yesterday. And as the star witness in the hearing to determine whether Martin Tankleff's double-murder conviction should be overturned, his story has changed at least once.

But some who know Harris say that by coming to Tankleff's defense, he has made a rare move to do what is right.

"The odd thing is that he's actually trying to do something good this time," one of Harris' six siblings said, asking not to be identified out of fear.

Harris, who says he drove Joseph Creedon and Peter Kent to the Belle Terre home of Tankleff's parents the night they were bludgeoned, is set to appear in court tomorrow, prosecutors said.

'Haunted by the murders'

He did not show at the Riverhead hearing Friday, spurring speculation that he would back away from his earlier statements. His attorney, Richard Barbuto of Mineola, declined to comment. Prosecutors have maintained that Harris is mentally unstable and should not be believed.

Tankleff's attorney, Bruce Barket, said he visited Harris yesterday in Suffolk County jail, where he is being held on a parole violation for a 1999 burglary. He said Harris has not changed his story. "He has not recanted, nor is he going to," Barket said, adding that Harris came forward because of a sincere wish to free Tankleff.

"I honestly think that the motivation is that he was haunted by the murders and by the fact that there was an innocent kid in jail," he said.

Harris first came forward with his story after serving in Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., at the same time Tankleff was there.

Growing up in a split-level ranch in a working-class neighborhood in Selden, Harris never had it easy, said the sibling, who detailed an abusive upbringing that drove Harris to drugs and crime. "You never escape that." Harris started getting in trouble in his early teens, committing burglaries to fuel a growing drug habit, the relative added.

Law enforcement records show arrests, with several for burglaries, dating back to when Harris was 19. Many times he received parole, only for it to be revoked within a year.

Question of truth

Harris' sibling said there is no doubt that Harris went to the Tankleff home that night to commit a burglary, but that the father of two is not a violent man. Harris didn't testify in court Friday out of fear, the sibling added.

"There's nobody on his side. He's all by himself, stuck in that jail trying to do something right," the sibling said. "He had a conscience that's all. He had a freakin' conscience. He grew it at some point."

But prosecutors described a less morally driven Harris. Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato said that Harris was trying to play a hero role and that he doesn't believe any of Harris' statements. "Not a word," Lato said. "I don't know whether he's lying or he's crazy or a combination of the two."

He points to a letter Harris wrote to Jay Salpeter, an investigator hired by Tankleff's defense team. "The truth [is] that I lied," Harris wrote. "I fabricated, concocted the whole ... thing."

Barket said it was natural that Harris would waffle. "He has a very legitimate fear of Creedon, and he has very legitimate fear of being prosecuted for the murder," Barket said.

Creedon's attorney, Anthony La Pinta, however, said that his client is innocent and that he doubts Harris' testimony will stand up in court. Neither Creedon nor Kent was ever charged with the killings.

"Up to now it's only been his tale," La Pinta said. "When put to the test of cross-examination, I'm confident it will fall apart."

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