DA agrees on Tankleff release until new trial



December 23, 2007

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said yesterday that Martin Tankleff should not spend another day in jail while awaiting a new trial on charges that he murdered his parents.

But he said he "respectfully disagreed" with the appellate justices who overturned Tankleff's conviction and said they "don't give me any alternatives" but to retry Tankleff, 36.

Spota's words came as prosecutors and Tankleff's attorneys said they have agreed on a bail package that would allow the Belle Terre man to be freed this week.

Despite his office's steadfast opposition to Tankleff's efforts to be exonerated, Spota also said yesterday that he has never maintained that Tankleff killed his parents.

"I never said that he did or did not," Spota said.

"What I have consistently said is that I do not believe that the people that the Tankleff team have said killed these people did indeed kill them."

Tankleff's defense team has contended that a disgruntled business partner of Tankleff's father hired a hit man to kill the elder Tankleff.

A county court judge will consider bail this week, said Tankleff's attorney, Bruce Barket of Garden City. Barket would not reveal the amount of the agreed-upon bail.

"These things have a way of unraveling, but there's no reason why Marty won't be out of jail by Friday," Barket said.

Barket commended Spota's office for moving quickly after the appellate court ruling.

"It's appropriate that prosecutors who work hard to keep people in jail - which he has done - are equally energetic to get people out who the courts say should be out," Barket said.

Tankleff's defense team has long accused Spota of having conflicts of interest in the case.

As a private attorney, Spota represented K. James McCready, the lead homicide detective on the case, in 1993 when he was accused of robbery and assault. McCready was acquitted in a bench trial.

In 2003, when Tankleff's defense team requested hearings on newly discovered evidence, the attorneys also asked that Spota recuse himself from the case, citing a conflict of interest. Spota refused and a judge declined to remove him.

Spota assigned the case to Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato, a former federal prosecutor and relative newcomer to the office who was not connected to the Tankleff matter.

They said the office had put measures in place so that Spota would not have influence over Lato.

Yesterday, Spota dismissed such criticism.

"I had nothing to do with this at all," he said.

Defense attorneys also point to another conflict involving McCready. Following the trial, the detective was a partner in a Riverhead restaurant, Digger O'Dell's, launched by Shari Rother, Tankleff's half-sister who inherited most of their father's $3-million estate after Tankleff's conviction.

Staff writer Matthew Chayes contributed to this story.