Supporters cheer Tankleff's release on bail


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10:39 PM EST, December 27, 2007

Dozens of supporters of Martin Tankleff broke with court etiquette and erupted into applause when a Suffolk County Court judge ordered Tankleff released on $1-million bail.

The release comes 17 years after Tankleff was convicted and sent to prison in the killings of his parents, Arlene and Seymour Tankleff, as a teenager.

He walked out of court at about 11 a.m. after his cousins, Ronald and Carol Falbee of Westbury, posted $1 million in bail.

When Judge Stephen L. Braslow said, "Good day to all and good luck to you, sir," closing the bail hearing, he ended a string of legal setbacks for Tankleff, who has tirelessly fought his 1990 conviction for the murders at his Belle Terre home.

The couple was attacked on the morning of Sept. 7, 1988, the first day of then-17-year-old Martin Tankleff's senior year at Port Jefferson high school.

Tankleff's conviction was overturned Friday by a four-judge appellate panel that found that he had amassed enough new evidence that could sway a jury to render a different verdict.

Tankleff had immersed himself in legal research and reached out to people for help as he launched several unsuccessful appeals over the 17 years he has been behind bars.

"If my arrest and conviction was a nightmare, this is a dream come true," he told a crowd of journalists assembled outside Braslow's third-floor courtroom. His voice cracked momentarily. "I want to thank everyone who made this possible."

Wearing a gray sweater over a white shirt, and black slacks, Tankleff hugged and kissed relatives and friends after the 10-minute proceeding before Braslow.

In a prepared statement, he thanked those who stood by him: "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."

He is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 18 and appear before Judge Robert W. Doyle for a status conference, said his attorney, Bruce Barket of Garden City.

Barket also said that Tankleff's legal team is prepared to go to trial if Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota moves to retry Tankleff for the killings.

It was unclear Saturday whether Spota would retry Tankleff, but Tankleff's attorneys -- and his family -- said they hope Spota will leave him alone.

"This whole case has been one disappointment after the other," said Ronald Falbee. "There's a lingering anger in there that an innocent man spent 19 years of his life behind bars. I find that unacceptable."

Marianne McClure, Tankleff's aunt, said that Tankleff's release allows her to finally grieve her sister's death.

"I was as upset when Marty was convicted as I was when I learned my sister was murdered," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Now we can mourn my sister properly, because we haven't been able to for 19 years."

Investigator Jay Salpeter, who gathered the witnesses who testified at a months-long evidentiary hearing designed to get Tankleff's conviction overturned -- an effort that Braslow rejected last year -- said he is optimistic but realistic about whether Tankleff will remain free.

Over an hour after his release, Tankleff arrived at his cousins' Westbury home sitting in the front seat of a black Range Rover.

He did not speak as he walked toward the house accompanied by a crush of news photographers and camera .operators.

Another relative drove up to the Westbury home with a trunkload of ice. Tankleff and his family, midway between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, were preparing for a long-awaited celebration of their own.

Staff writers Joseph Mallia and Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.