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The New York Times
October 25, 2006
By BRUCE LAMBERT
Peter Kent offered a novel alibi two years ago when new witnesses accused him of involvement in the murders of a Long Island couple in 1988.
At the time of the attacks, Mr. Kent testified in court, he was busy elsewhere committing other crimes with an accomplice, buying and using illicit drugs in the middle of a robbery spree.
Now the man he says was his accomplice, Daniel Raymond, has come forward — not to corroborate the alibi, but to deny it. Further, he charges that Mr. Kent was desperate to concoct a cover story and intimidated him by threatening his wife and children.
Mr. Raymond’s affidavit, cited in a motion filed last week in Suffolk County Court, is the latest development in the long-running battle over who killed Seymour and Arlene Tankleff. The case has drawn national attention, and some criminal justice experts have called it a miscarriage of justice.
The couple were bludgeoned and slashed in their waterfront home in Belle Terre early on Sept. 7, 1988. Their son, Martin, 17, was arrested, based on a confession he disavowed and never signed. He insisted he was innocent, but a jury convicted him in 1990, and he has been in prison ever since.
Three years ago, his lawyers started presenting witnesses who implicated three former convicts, Mr. Kent, Joseph Creedon and Glenn Harris, saying they acted at the behest of Seymour Tankleff’s embittered business partner, Jerard Steuerman. The two partners had feuded over control of their bagel stores and Mr. Steuerman’s $500,000 debt to Mr. Tankleff, according to testimony at the original trial. On the night of the attacks, Mr. Steuerman was in the Tankleff home, but the police said he was never a suspect.
This year Judge Stephen L. Braslow declined to overturn Mr. Tankleff’s convictions, faulting the new evidence as belated, hearsay or not credible. The Tankleff lawyers appealed his ruling, and while the case is pending, they have turned up more evidence and filed new motions to free Mr. Tankleff.
Mr. Raymond is the sixth witness to implicate Mr. Kent. Mr. Harris said he was the getaway driver who took Mr. Kent and Mr. Creedon to and from the murder scene. An acquaintance testified that the crew visited him that night and invited him to join. Mr. Creedon was quoted by his son as saying that Mr. Kent killed Mrs. Tankleff. A former co-worker quoted Mr. Kent as bragging about killing the couple. A former boss said that when he assigned Mr. Kent to work on the pool at the former Tankleff home, Mr. Kent said he had been there before.
Mr. Kent’s lawyer, Thomas Lavallee, did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
The Suffolk County assistant district attorney who opposes the Tankleff appeal, Leonard Lato, said Mr. Raymond’s new account contradicted what he said in 2004. In an interview with Mr. Lato then, Mr. Raymond said he and Mr. Kent “were together all day, every day during the spree,” Mr. Lato said.
After being accused in the killings in 2003, a “very nervous” Mr. Kent coerced Mr. Raymond to concoct the alibi, Mr. Raymond’s affidavit said. Mr. Kent warned that Mr. Creedon and Mr. Steuerman were involved and “are watching your family,” and he cited Mr. Raymond’s children and where they lived, the affidavit said.
Mr. Raymond also quoted Mr. Kent as declaring Mr. Harris — the first to accuse Mr. Kent in the murders — to be a “dead man” who is “going to disappear and there won’t be a body this time.” Mr. Tankleff’s lawyer, Bruce A. Barket, said Mr. Raymond had nothing to gain by his affidavit and called it an important disclosure.