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By SELIM ALGAR and LUKAS I. ALPERT
New York Post
December 28, 2007 -- After spending nearly half his life behind bars, Martin Tankleff tasted freedom for the first time yesterday at a party with joyous relatives toasting him with champagne.
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Grinning from ear to ear, Tankleff seemed a little perplexed as his relatives explained some of the technological changes that have occurred since his incarceration - such as cellphones and the Internet.
The welcome-home party capped off a stunning transformation from prisoner to free man for Tankleff, who began his day transported in handcuffs to Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead. Following a nearly two-decade legal fight, Tankleff, now 36, walked out of the Suffolk County courthouse on $1 million bond.
"My arrest and conviction was a nightmare. This is a dream come true," a beaming Tankleff said while being mobbed by joyous relatives. "I've always had faith that this day would come."
An appeals court overturned Tankleff's 1990 conviction last Friday, saying new evidence suggests someone else may have killed his adoptive parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, in their Long Island home.
Upon his release, Tankleff and about 100 of his relatives, friends and supporters made their way to a cousin's Westbury home, where he'll be staying, and shared cake, grilled shrimp, salad, champagne and coffee.
The party followed his morning appearance before Judge Stephen Braslow - whose decision to reject Tankleff's appeal last year was overturned by the higher court. In court, Tankleff looked dramatically different from the teenager who was arrested after his parents were found slain in their Belle Terre home.
Now with a slight paunch and receding hairline, a beaming Tankleff was dressed in civilian clothes, though still bound by handcuffs, as he was brought into the courtroom. Court officers initially tried to calm his supporters as they started applauding but allowed the celebration to go on when Braslow signed off on the bail application.
Afterward, Tankleff's cousin Ron Falbee - who put up the bond money and whose house Tankleff will be staying in as he awaits a retrial - broke into tears as the two hugged.
"We're absolutely thrilled Marty is out," he said.
Tankleff's attorneys said they hoped that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota would dismiss the case, although Spota has indicated that he intends to continue.
While Tankleff caught up on old times, he didn't discuss the case.
But Falbee said he hopes the DA will finally go after his cousins' real killers. "We will never forget that aspect," Falbee said. "We have to get Marty in the clear first, but we want justice for Seymour and Arlene."
A spokesman for Spota declined to comment.
Questions swirling around the case had drawn many supporters to Tankleff, including "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini. It even drew the interest of the Innocence Project, a group dedicated to freeing wrongfully convicted people.
"This is one of those cases that has bothered the entire legal community for more than a decade," said the project's director, Barry Scheck. "It just shouldn't have taken this long to get the conviction vacated."
Tankleff was 17 when his parents were bludgeoned and stabbed in their Belle Terre house in 1988. After a detective falsely told the teen his father had awakened from a coma and implicated him, Tankleff confessed to the crimes. But he quickly repudiated that confession, refusing to sign a written statement police had prepared.
After Tankleff's conviction, private detectives working on his behalf turned up witnesses who implicated others in the killings.
The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Brooklyn said it was "probable" that a new jury would render a different verdict.