Tankleff Legal Team Takes Bid for New Trial To Appellate Division

By Rosamaria Mancini
New York Law Journal
January 9, 2007

Martin Tankleff, who is serving a 50-years-to-life sentence after being convicted of murdering his parents in their Belle Terre home, has appealed the denial of a new trial to the Appellate Division, Second Department.

The case of Mr. Tankleff, who was 17 when his parents, Seymour and Arlene, were killed on Sept. 7, 1988, has drawn national attention and interest from criminal experts for almost 20 years.

Mr. Tankleff, now 35, was convicted by a jury in 1990 on two counts of second-degree murder. The teenager originally confessed to the crime after Suffolk County homicide detectives falsely told Mr. Tankleff his father was alive and had accused the son of the crime. But Mr. Tankleff later disavowed the confession and never signed it. He also testified at his own trial.

Attorneys for Mr. Tankleff, who is serving his sentence in Great Meadow Correctional Facility at Comstock, asked for a new trial in 2004, claiming new evidence had been discovered.

In a 20-month hearing that ended in 2005, his attorneys sought to prove the murders stemmed from a feud between Seymour Tankleff and his estranged business partner, Jerry Steuerman, who owed Mr. Tankleff $500,000. The lawyers contended that Mr. Steuerman hired two men, Joseph Creedon and Peter Kent, to commit the murders.

But in March 2006, Nassau County Court Judge Stephen L. Braslow (See Profile) refused to overturn the s conviction.

Judge Braslow dismissed the motion for a second trial, finding that some of the new evidence presented to the court was belated and noted that defense lawyers could have found and presented it years earlier. The judge also disputed the credibility of certain witnesses, calling them "nefarious scoundrels," said they had extensive criminal histories and he found serious inconsistencies in their testimony.

Mr. Tankleff's 150-page appeal, filed yesterday, includes the testimony of several new witnesses and argues that the judge failed to properly consider evidence that emerged after the trial.

"I have to believe that no justice system will continue to incarcerate a man that is obviously innocent. It just can't continue," said Bruce Barket, one of Mr. Tankleff's attorneys.

Mr. Barket of Garden City, is one of a team of 10 attorneys working pro bono to obtain a new trial for Mr. Tankleff. The others are: Barry Pollack and Dawn Murphy-Johnson of Kelley Drye & Warren; Stephen Braga, Courtney Gilligan-Saleski and Sheila Kadagathur of Baker Botts; Jennifer O'Connor, Brent Gurney and Roberto Gonzalez of WilmerHale; and Scott Splittgerber of Clifford Chance.

The attorneys argue in the appeal that numerous witnesses have established that Messrs. Creedon and Kent were the murderers. They point to the testimony of six witnesses who have testified - some before Judge Braslow - that on various occasions and over a number of years that Mr. Creedon admitted to committing the crime, and that Mr. Kent admitted to a former co-worker that he and a friend were hired to commit the murders.

The Tankleff legal team also argues that the lead detective in the case, K. James McCready, who obtained the unsigned and later disavowed confession from Mr. Tankleff, perjured himself at trial when he "repeatedly and categorically" denied that he knew Mr. Steuerman. The attorneys say Mr. McCready's testimony was false, and that new undisputed evidence from two witnesses shows that Mr. McCready and Mr. Steuerman had been friends and business associates years before the murders.

In addition, Mr. Tankleff's attorneys said they have expert evidence showing that Mr. Tankleff's confession was false. They argue the County Court erred when it failed to consider the evidence from about two dozen witnesses in its totality and from the perspective of a juror. They claim the court wrongly rejected witnesses based on minor inconsistencies in their testimony, and in establishing a virtual per se rule that witnesses with criminal records are unworthy of belief.

Among those filing amicus briefs were former federal Judge John Martin, former state Supreme Court Justice Herbert A Posner and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project. "There is a very real chance that this person is innocent, and the case needs to be reviewed carefully and thoroughly by the court," Mr. Martin said.

A spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota told the Associated Press that prosecutors would file a written response with the court within 60 days. Oral arguments on the appeal were expected later this year.

- Rosamaria Mancini can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .