- < 12.22.07, NY Law Journal: Tankleff Conviction Upset, Panel Orders a New Trial
- 12.22.07, NY Post: 'Finally Justice' >
Court bounces case of Long Island man jailed 17 years for slaying parents
BY JOHN MARZULLI
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Saturday, December 22nd 2007, 4:00 AM
Convicted of killing his wealthy parents after confessing 19 years ago, Martin Tankleff moved closer to freedom Friday when an appeals court said there's enough new evidence to convince a jury he's innocent.
A four-judge appellate panel unanimously overturned his conviction and said it's "probable" a second jury would acquit him because cops tricked him into confessing and his lawyers have uncovered new evidence.
"It appears the [Suffolk] County Court never considered the cumulative effect of the new evidence created a probability that had such evidence been received at the trial, the verdict would have been more favorable to [Tankleff]," the judges wrote.
Tankleff, 36, serving 50 years to life at Great Meadow prison in Comstock, was overjoyed.
"His first words were, 'Finally justice has started to tilt our way,'" lawyer Bruce Barket said. "I'm telling my secretary to get champagne. We're thrilled."
Tankleff, who was convicted in 1990, has been behind bars for more than 17 years for stabbing and bludgeoning his adopted parents, Arlene and Seymour, on Sept. 7, 1988.
Suffolk County detectives extracted a confession from Tankleff after tricking him into thinking his father had fingered him on his deathbed.
Tankleff, then 17, had been subjected to intensive questioning by Detective Kevin McCready, who committed perjury in another murder case.
"Could I have blacked out and done this? Could I be possessed?" Tankleff asked, according to court records.
"Marty, I think that's what happened to you," another detective responded.
Appellate Judges Reinaldo Rivera, Gabriel Krausman, Anita Florio and Mark Dillon wrote that the confession was clearly the linchpin of the prosecution's case.
They said the mountain of new evidence uncovered since the conviction warrants a new trial.
The new evidence includes information that Seymour Tankleff's partner in the bagel business, Jerald Steuerman, owed him hundreds of thousands of dollars and was playing cards with the victim on the night of the murders.
Steuerman, who could not be reached for comment, allegedly hired three goons to kill the Tankleffs. Anthony LaPinta, the lawyer for alleged hit man Joseph Creedon, said his client is an "innocent scapegoat."
A witness testified at a 2004 hearing that he was offered $25,000 from a partner in the bagel business to kill the other partner, but the lower court upheld the conviction.
The judges criticized the lower court for failing to properly evaluate the new evidence.
"It is abhorrent to our sense of justice and fair play to countenance the possibility that someone innocent of a crime may be incarcerated or otherwise punished for a crime which he or she did not commit," they wrote.
Barket said he will ask a judge to release Tankleff on bail next week. "We want justice and we want Marty exonerated," said Tankleff's cousin Ronald Falbee.
District Attorney Thomas Spota "respectfully disagreed" with the ruling but did not say if Tankleff would be retried.
"I would hope they would ... investigate the people who are really responsible," Barket said.
McCready, who later opened a bar with the husband of Tankleff's half sister Shari Rother, did not return calls.