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New York Times
November 2, 2007
Convict Charges Cover-Up of New Evidence in ’88 Death of Parents
By BRUCE LAMBERT
A Long Island man appealing his convictions for the grisly 1988 murders of his parents sent court papers yesterday accusing prosecutors of a cover-up, alleging that they concealed two important new witnesses and suppressed their testimony about who they say are the real killers.
Lawyers for Martin H. Tankleff, the imprisoned son, accused the Suffolk County district attorney of prosecutorial misconduct and asked the County Court to order prosecutors to divulge any other withheld information.
The new evidence focuses on Joseph Creedon, who Mr. Tankleff has said led the attacks on his parents, who were bludgeoned and slashed in their waterfront home in Belle Terre.
Mr. Creedon denied involvement when he testified in court hearings in 2004 on Mr. Tankleff’s appeal to overturn the jury verdicts. But other witnesses — including Mr. Creedon’s son — testified that Mr. Creedon had admitted his guilt. A Suffolk County judge, however, upheld the convictions, a decision being reviewed by an appellate court. Now two more witnesses have come forward: Tina Molloy, who said she dated Mr. Creedon this year, and her current companion, Dennis Piacente.
Ms. Molloy’s affidavit said that when she asked Mr. Creedon if he had committed the murders, he said: “Yeah, I did, but they can’t prove it. They have no proof. I am untouchable.”
She also said she saw him with Peter Kent, whom Mr. Tankleff has accused of being an accomplice in the murders. Mr. Kent has denied involvement.
Mr. Piacente’s affidavit said that Mr. Creedon kept albums of items about the Tankleff case and opened a safe containing a black bag with “a .22-caliber automatic, leg irons, handcuffs, security guard badge on a neck chain and a black pullover stocking hat.”
The witnesses said they told this to Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato and two investigators in August and gave them a bullet from Mr. Creedon’s gun. But Mr. Lato scoffed at the allegations, defended Mr. Creedon, made jokes and questioned their credibility, they said. The prosecutors took no notes, Ms. Molloy and Mr. Piacente said.
The prosecutors never followed up, the witnesses said, so they contacted Mr. Tankleff’s investigator, Jay Salpeter.
The Tankleff lawyers sent the allegations to the Suffolk County Court in Riverhead in a motion seeking another appeal, and also forwarded the unadjudicated material to the four-judge panel in Brooklyn that is reviewing the appeal already pending on earlier new evidence.
Mr. Lato did not respond to a message seeking comment, but Mr. Creedon’s lawyer, Anthony M. LaPinta, said he was unaware of the new allegations and could not comment on them.
A lawyer for Mr. Tankleff, Stephen L. Braga, said: “A killer is walking the streets of Suffolk County with a feeling of impunity created by the fact that he is ‘untouchable’ by the D.A. One can hardly imagine a more dangerous situation.”
Another lawyer for Mr. Tankleff, Bruce A. Barket, accused the prosecutors of violating their legal and ethical duty to disclose new evidence. “It’s infuriating that they continue to stonewall, while Marty sits in prison,” he said.
The new witnesses corroborate other evidence, including Mr. Creedon’s previous admissions, Mr. Kent’s involvement and details like a safe in Mr. Creedon’s garage, the lawyers said.
The Tankleff lawyers also accused the prosecutors of protecting Mr. Creedon by refusing to investigate him for new crimes. Ms. Molloy’s affidavit said he involved her in three robberies, and because he is a convicted felon, the lawyers said, it would be a crime for him to have a gun, as Mr. Piacente claimed he saw.
Bennett L. Gershman, a professor at Pace University Law School, said that if what the new witnesses say is true, the prosecution’s failure to disclose their allegations “is a serious violation” and might force the appeal hearings to be reopened.
Mr. Tankleff contends that the killers acted at the behest of his father’s embittered business partner, Jerard Steuerman. The elder Mr. Tankleff had lent Mr. Steuerman $500,000 and was pressing him to repay. Mr. Steuerman was in the Tankleff home late on the night of the murders but has denied involvement.
Martin Tankleff, 17 at the time of the murders and now 36, was mainly convicted on an admission written by the police that he refused to sign and immediately repudiated.
Ron Falbee, Mr. Tankleff’s cousin, said the new disclosures underscored the need for a special prosecutor. “This is getting to be just too bizarre,” he said.