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BY ALFONSO A. CASTILLO
Newsday Staff Writer
January 8, 2007
Martin Tankleff's latest appeal for a new trial will include words from a man who knows something about being a teenager wrongfully convicted for a parent's murder.
"It's an outrage, and I just had to say something," said Peter Reilly, 51, of Tolland, Conn., who was convicted of his mother's 1973 murder in Falls Village, Conn., based on a false confession. He spent four months in jail before being exonerated. "This man has spent a good piece of his youth and a large portion of his life in jail for something I don't believe for a minute he did."
Reilly's sentiments echo those of several former prosecutors, judges and even Tankleff's high school classmates, who have written letters supporting his appeal, expected to be filed today in a Brooklyn appellate court.
"They all look at the evidence, and they all think the same thing -- that justice has not been done in this case," said Tankleff's Washington, D.C., attorney Barry Pollack.
In 1990, Tankleff was convicted of murdering his parents Arlene and Seymour Tankleff at their Belle Terre home. Tankleff, 17 at the time of the 1988 slayings, has said he was coerced by police into confessing. His lawyers went on to launch a national campaign to overturn his conviction, based on evidence they say exonerates Tankleff and implicates others.
During a 20-month hearing that ended in 2005 on a motion for a new trial, Tankleff's attorneys presented evidence they said showed that Seymour Tankleff's business partner, Jerry Steuerman, paid Peter Kent and Joseph Creedon, both of Selden, to commit the murders.
Prosecutors say, however, that forensic evidence links Tankleff to the murders, and last year Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow rejected Tankleff's bid. Steuerman, Kent and Creedon have all denied having anything to do with the murders.
Believing that Suffolk's law enforcement and legal systems have a stake in upholding the conviction, Tankleff's attorneys say his odds are better now, in front of the Appellate Division.
"They don't care so much about what Suffolk County looks like; they care about preserving the system in general," said another of Tankleff's attorneys, Bruce Barket of Garden City.
The 150-page appeal compiles the testimony of several witnesses who have come forward since Tankleff's trial with evidence of his innocence, attorneys said. They include Glenn Harris, who told Tankleff's lawyers that he drove Creedon and Kent to the Tankleff home on the night of the murders, and Creedon's son, who said his father confessed to him.
The appeal also includes several briefs by Tankleff supporters. One was written by former state, federal and county prosecutors, including an ex-Queens district attorney and a former Suffolk prosecutor, Tankleff representatives said.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato, who has reviewed a draft of the appeal, said it focuses on three issues -- that Tankleff's trial attorney was ineffective, that lead investigator Det. K. James McCready perjured himself by testifying that he did not know Steuerman and that new evidence proves Tankleff's innocence.
Lato said the appeal is well-written and well-argued but essentially "is no different than any argument they made" during the hearings before Braslow. More telling than what is in the appeal is what was left out, Lato said. There is no mention of the blood and forensic evidence, which prosecutors say clearly link Tankleff to the murder, nor of how Tankleff lawyers paid one witness for his testimony, Lato said.
"The worst thing I think lawyers can do is ignore potentially devastating evidence," Lato said. "That is a sign that you know your adversary is right."
Barket said attorneys focused their efforts on evidence exonerating their client, and would address prosecutors' objections later.
Attorneys expect to make brief oral arguments on the appeal in the fall, and they expect a decision by the end of 2007. If the court rules in favor of Tankleff, it could order a new trial or even dismiss the charges altogether, making Tankleff a free man.
If the court rejects the appeal, Tankleff's attorneys say they will appeal the case to higher courts. In a statement, Tankleff's family expressed hope that it will not come to that.
"Marty finally will have his day in court and we are truly optimistic that the appeals court will overturn Marty's wrongful conviction," the statement said. "We look forward to welcoming him home this year."
Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.