Tankleff defense argues for 'relief'

Newsday Staff Writer

January 8, 2007, 9:50 PM EST

No court could maintain its legitimacy if, after digesting the 180 pages of Martin Tankleff's appeal, it didn't believe the Belle Terre man at least deserved a new trial on charges that he murdered his parents, his attorneys said yesterday as they filed their latest appeal.

"He is an innocent man serving a sentence for crimes he did not commit," attorneys said at the start of the appeal. "Marty has already gathered a critical mass of evidence showing his innocence; he is legally entitled to relief now."

Tankleff was convicted in 1990 of murdering his parents, Arlene and Seymour Tankleff, two years before, when he was 17. He is serving a sentence of 50 years to life in prison. His attorneys have said the conviction was based largely on a bogus confession police coerced out of Tankleff.

Tankleff's supporters have since presented evidence they say implicates Seymour Tankleff's former business partner, Jerry Steuerman. They say Steuerman, who owed Seymour Tankleff $500,000, hired Joseph Creedon and Peter Kent to commit the murders. All three deny any involvement.

Following a lengthy hearing about the new evidence, Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow last year rejected a motion by Tankleff's attorneys for a new trial.

Prosecutors remain confident that the right person is in jail for the murders, and have said that other evidence supports Tankleff's confession.

"This has been litigated time and again. They just want a do-over," Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato said yesterday. "We've said it before and we're saying it again: Enough already."

The appeal blasts Braslow's decision, in which he dismissed most of the new witnesses as "a cavalcade of nefarious scoundrels."

"The old adage advises us not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Yet that is exactly what the county court did," reads the appeal. "The county court dealt with the evidence tree-by-tree and never took a step back."

Tankleff's attorneys said in the appeal that, contrary to Braslow's methods, the law mandated that the new evidence be considered "in its totality" and from the perspective of a "reasonable juror."

Among the other issues the appeal says are reasons for a dismissal of the charges or a new trial are: Lead investigator Det. K. James McCready committed perjury in the trial; Tankleff's statement was illegally gotten by police without Tankleff being read his rights; and police used a "cruel hoax" to force a false confession out of Tankleff.

McCready admitted during the trial that he lied to Tankleff by telling him that his father came out of his coma and implicated his son in his attack.

Denouncing the police tactics, four people wrongly convicted of crimes based on false confessions lent their names to a letter of support accompanying the appeal.

Former Suffolk, state and federal prosecutors also gave their support in letters, as well as former U.S. District Court Judge John Martin and former State Supreme Court Justice Herbert Posner of Manhattan and Queens.

In related news, Braslow last week rejected another motion by Tankleff's attorneys for a new trial -- their third to date.

This motion concerned new testimony from Kent's alibi witness that he was not with Kent during the time of the murders.

Tankleff's case will be the focus of today's "Dr. Phil Show," which will feature interviews with Tankleff and other witnesses in the case.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.