About a new trial, Tankleff kin say 'bring it on'

BY ZACHARY R. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; Staff writer Michael Amon contributed to this story.

December 22, 2007

For Ron Falbee of Westbury, a state appellate panel's decision to overturn cousin Martin Tankleff's conviction Friday came nearly two decades late, but he said he never lost faith that the system would correct what he saw as an injustice.

He just never thought it would take this long.

"We expected a win every time we went into court," he said from his Garden City office, reacting to news that Tankleff had been granted a new trial in a case that has fascinated Long Island since Tankleff's parents, Arlene and Seymour Tankleff, were attacked in their Belle Terre home Sept. 7, 1988. "There was no doubt in our minds that right was on our side."

Falbee, with whom Tankleff stayed while he was free on bail before he was convicted in 1990, said he hopes Suffolk prosecutors decline to retry Tankleff. If they do, however, he said legal momentum and mounting public opinion are also on their side now.

"I think a retrial would be a waste of Suffolk County's money - but bring it on," he said. "We feel very confident we have the evidence. It would just add to the farce for them to do it again."

Falbee said he has been surprised that Suffolk prosecutors maintained their position that Tankleff is guilty after several people came forward during a months-long hearing to provide evidence that others had committed the murders.

"Don't you think that a bunch of your citizens coming forward is worth your investigating?" he asked of Suffolk officials, who dismissed much of the testimony provided by people who knew or are related to Joseph Creedon and Peter Kent of Selden. They are the two men who Tankleff's attorneys have said committed the murders on behalf of Jerry Steuerman, Seymour Tankleff's business partner. All three have denied any role in the slayings.

At the time of the killings, Steuerman owed the elder Tankleff hundreds of thousands of dollars - and Tankleff had begun to demand payment.

The decision comes to the Tankleff family after decades of court hearings and legal briefs, days spent sitting in court or waiting anxiously by the phone for good news.

"I'm just so happy, just so happy," said Autumn Tankleff, 61, of East Meadow, another cousin, when she heard Martin Tankleff was granted a new trial. She watched television coverage of the appellate decision all day.

But not all of Tankleff's family was thrilled.

His half-sister, Shari Mistretta, of Port Jefferson, said she heard about the court ruling but did not want to make a public statement.

After initially supporting Tankleff, she changed her mind after the trial. She inherited Seymour Tankleff's estate after her brother went to prison and later became business partners with the detective who extracted Martin Tankleff's confession.

Staff writer Michael Amon contributed to this story.