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Ex-Prosecutors Urge New Trial for Man Convicted of 2 Murders
By BRUCE LAMBERT
January 8, 2007
The campaign to overturn the conviction of a Long Island man for the murders of his parents has gained a highly unusual group of supporters: 31 former federal, state and local prosecutors.
They argued in court papers filed today that the prisoner, Martin H. Tankleff, “has presented persuasive evidence” that he was wrongly convicted and deserves a new trial. Justice demands “punishing the guilty and freeing the innocent,” the prosecutors wrote.
The Tankleff case has drawn national attention and coincidentally is scheduled to be featured on the “Dr. Phil” television program on Tuesday.
“I can’t think of another case like this where so many prosecutors signed on behalf of a convicted murderer,” said Bennett L. Gershman, formerly an assistant district attorney in Manhattan and special state prosecutor who teaches law at Pace University. “It’s extremely, extremely unusual and shows the critical nature of this case as a symbol of justice gone wrong.”
The friend-of-the-court brief was one of several accompanying Mr. Tankleff’s 157-page appeal filed at the state Appellate Division in Brooklyn . Other briefs came from former state and federal judges, a man freed after being wrongly convicted of killing his mother, a network of 36 groups dedicated to helping innocent prisoners, the national association of defense lawyers and 54 of Mr. Tankleff’s high school classmates.
One signer, Michael F. Armstrong, served as Queens district attorney, chief counsel to the Knapp Commission on police corruption and chairman of the review panel on the Central Park jogger rape case. “The new evidence certainly seems to indicate that a mistake has been made,” he said today.
Another prominent supporter is John S. Martin Jr., formerly a federal judge and United States attorney.
Arlene and Seymour Tankleff were savagely attacked in their waterfront home in Belle Terre in 1988. Martin, then 17, was arrested, based on a police-written confession that he never signed and immediately disavowed. Convicted in 1990, he has been imprisoned ever since.
Over the last three years, Martin Tankleff’s investigator, Jay Salpeter, has produced a series of new evidence implicating three ex-convicts. The Tankleff defense asserts that the ex-convicted were acting at the behest of Seymour Tankleff’s embittered business partner, Jerard Steuerman, who owed the elder Tankleff $500,000. Mr. Steuerman was in the Tankleff home on the night of the attacks, but the police did not investigate him.
The new evidence included a man who said he was the getaway driver for the killers and several witnesses who quoted the other two ex-convicts as privately admitting their involvement.
But last year a Suffolk County Court judge rejected that evidence as lacking credibility. Mr. Tankleff’s lawyers are appealing that ruling, contending it had factual and legal mistakes.
“Twenty-six witnesses and counting have now come forward from all walks of life to add pieces to the factual puzzle of who murdered Seymour and Arlene Tankleff,” the appeal said. “This court should hold that there is clear and convincing evidence that a reasonable jury would find a reasonable doubt as to Marty’s guilt.”