- < 12.28.07, Newsday: Supporters cheer Tankleff's release on bail
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December 28, 2007
After Half a Lifetime in Prison, an Inmate Is Free for Now
By BRUCE LAMBERT
RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — After being imprisoned nearly half his life for the murders of his parents — crimes he insists he did not commit — Martin H. Tankleff shed his shackles Thursday and celebrated at a victory party with family, friends and other supporters.
At the party, friends gave him a lesson on navigating the outside world by teaching him how to operate a cellphone. Sitting on a couch, he was soon making calls, holding the phone to his right ear while putting a finger in his left to muffle the din of the party.
His day had begun in a more humbling posture. Hands still cuffed behind his back, Mr. Tankleff entered a hushed Suffolk County courtroom here for a brief bail hearing, where relatives posted a $1 million bond.
Judge Stephen L. Braslow said, “You will be released forthwith.” The dozens of supporters packing the courtroom burst into applause. Sheriff’s deputies escorted Mr. Tankleff to the adjacent jail for discharge. Then he returned to the courthouse, without handcuffs, for a crowded news conference.
Before speaking, the smiling Mr. Tankleff hugged his aunts, uncles and cousins, one by one. All of them wept. He was also surrounded by his lawyers, his private investigator and the organizers of the campaign to free him.
“If my arrest and conviction was a nightmare, this is a dream come true,” Mr. Tankleff said, stepping up to the radio and television microphones and calmly reading a short statement.
Now 36, Mr. Tankleff was 17 when his mother and father, Arlene and Seymour, were fatally bludgeoned and slashed in their waterfront home in Belle Terre on Long Island. He was arrested that same day and convicted in 1990, and had been in prison ever since.
Mr. Tankleff thanked “all my friends and supporters, in Suffolk County and across the nation and literally around the world, for your interest, and for making my fight your fight.”
The crowd included supporters who had never known Mr. Tankleff but had watched his case. “I followed it from Day 1 and just never thought he did it,” said Karen Florian of Farmingville, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Marty Didn’t Do It.”
Mr. Tankleff’s release resulted from a decision issued by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn last Friday, unanimously overturning his convictions. The court cited extensive new evidence pointing to a band of ex-convicts, acting at the behest of Seymour Tankleff’s estranged business partner, as the killers.
The new evidence would probably have changed the jury’s verdict, so Mr. Tankleff is entitled to a new trial, the court ruled. The appeals court reversed Judge Braslow, who had rejected the new evidence as coming mostly from “a cavalcade of nefarious characters.”
Judge Braslow did not refer to the appeals decision. He gave Mr. Tankleff a standard admonition against getting into trouble: “No further involvement with the law.” And he bade farewell by saying, “Good luck to you, sir.”
The original murder indictments still stand, and the Suffolk prosecutors say they intend to retry Mr. Tankleff. The assistant district attorney in the case, Leonard Lato, said, “It’s basically a do-over.” Any further proceedings will be transferred to a different judge, Robert Doyle.
Cautioning that his fight is not over, Mr. Tankleff said, “Remember that while I am innocent, I am still accused by the Suffolk County district attorney of the murder of my parents.”
He said that if there was a second trial, “I do hope that I can continue to count on everyone’s support as I defend myself again.”
Mr. Tankleff and his supporters have called for the authorities to drop the charges and begin a new investigation of the people they say committed the murders. The private investigator who uncovered most of the new evidence, Jay Salpeter, said, “Up until today we have never won.”
Because of the possible trial, Mr. Tankleff’s lawyers barred him from answering questions from reporters. One lawyer, Bruce A. Barket, said that Mr. Tankleff had been instrumental in the defense, and “we’re going to put him to work on his case.” Another lawyer, Barry J. Pollack, said that first, “we’re going to give him one day off.”
From the courthouse, Mr. Tankleff and his supporters left in a procession of cars for a celebration at the Westbury home of his cousin, Ron Falbee. Traveling along the Long Island Expressway, they whizzed past the exit for Yaphank, site of the police headquarters where Mr. Tankleff was interrogated and charged, based on a disputed confession that he immediately repudiated and never signed. It was, nonetheless, the basis of his convictions.
At the Falbee home, a buffet lunch and drinks were served. One supporter, Kurt Paschke, called the occasion a “Marty Gras.”
Dressed in a white shirt and dark pants instead of a regulation orange jail uniform, Mr. Tankleff mingled amiably in the crowd, thanking everyone again. He was overheard telling a well-wisher that the celebration was “long, long overdue.”
The living room was decorated with a sparkly Christmas tree. Less conspicuously, a table in the upstairs hallway displayed a collection of family photographs. In the front row was a picture of Arlene and Seymour Tankleff.
Before the upbeat party, relatives expressed bitterness and relief at the courthouse news conference. “This whole case has been one disappointment after the other,” Mr. Falbee said. “There’s a lingering anger in there that an innocent man spent years of his life behind bars.”
An aunt, Marianne McClure, said, “I was as upset the day Marty was convicted as I was the day I learned my sister was murdered.”
His travail has been such a burden, she said, that only “now we can mourn my sister properly, because we haven’t been able to for 19 years.”
Leaving the courthouse, a cousin, Lynne Kadan, said, “It’s like the whole family was let out of prison today.”