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A.K.A.: "Marty"
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (17) - Parricide
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: September 7, 1988
Date of birth: August 29, 1971
Victims profile: Seymour and Arlene Tankleff (his wealthy parents)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Suffolk County, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to two terms of 25 years to life in prison in1990. Released on December 27, 2007

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tankleff confession


motion to overturn conviction

prosecutor's response to defense


Martin ("Marty") Tankleff (born August 29, 1971) is a Long Island, New York resident who was convicted of murdering his wealthy parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, on September 7, 1988. After 20 years of imprisonment, his conviction was vacated, all charges were dropped, and he was released from prison.

Indictment and Conviction

Police said he caught their attention because he claimed to have slept through the attack and displayed what they considered to be insufficient emotion at the scene of the crime.

Tankleff has always professed his innocence, claiming he was pressured by detectives working the case to confess to the murders after extended questioning. The confession was admitted into evidence despite Tankleff's claims that it was improperly coerced.

Specifically, the lead detective informed Tankleff during questioning that his father had come out of his coma and named Marty as his attacker. Shortly after hearing this admitted falsehood, Tankleff wondered whether he could have "blacked out" and, with the encouragement of the detective, confessed to the murders and was ultimately convicted, at age 19, in 1990 and sentenced to two terms of 25 years to life.

Tankleff recanted his confession almost immediately. His contention since the day of the murders (notwithstanding the confession, which he refused to sign, asserting it was false and coerced by lead detective McCready, who also hand wrote it) is that his parents were ordered murdered by his father's business partner, Jerry Steuerman, who owed the elder Tankleff several hundred thousand dollars. Mr. Steuerman was the last guest to leave the Tankleff home the night of the murders, and, while Seymour Tankleff was in a coma, changed his appearance, faked his death and fled to California.

Retrial Motion

In 2004, his lawyers petitioned the county court for a new trial. The motions were based upon new evidence that Tankleff claims shows that career criminals connected to Jerry Steuerman were the true murderers of his parents. Tankleff also presented evidence, unrefuted by the district attorney, that the lead detective and Jerry Steuerman were acquaintances and business associates prior to the Tankleff murders, in contradiction to the detective's testimony at Tankleff's original trial. According to a scathing report by the New York State Investigation Commission on corruption and misconduct in Suffolk County law enforcement, this same detective had perjured himself in a previous murder trial.

On March 17, 2006, Suffolk County Judge Steven L. Braslow denied Tankleff's motions for a new trial, to vacate his previous conviction, to disqualify Suffolk County, New York's District Attorney Thomas Spota from the case, and to grant access to DNA evidence that might support Tankleff's claim of innocence.

The case has been presented by 48 Hours Mystery, which was broadcast and updated on August 11, 2007.

Appellate Division vacates conviction

The case was reviewed by the New York State Appellate Division: Second Judicial Department in Brooklyn, New York. The Innocence Project assisted his defense. The New York Times reported on December 21 that the Appellate Division of the NY Supreme Court has vacated Tankleff's conviction and granted a new trial on December 21, 2007.

On December 27, 2007 Tankleff was released following a bail hearing.

DA Drops all Charges

On December 29, 2007 the New York Times reported that New York State has begun an official inquiry into Suffolk County law enforcement’s handling of the investigation into the 1988 murders of Arlene and Seymour Tankleff. The inquiry began more than a year ago when the State Investigation Commission started gathering legal documents in the long-disputed case. The inquiry is to be directed by a special counsel at the state commission, Joseph Kunzeman, a retired state appellate judge. The commission is taking special interest in the Tankleff case as a follow-up to its investigation of Suffolk County law enforcement in the 1980s, which found entrenched misconduct among the police and prosecutors. Though the commission has no enforcement powers, it can refer evidence of crimes to the authorities or propose a special prosecutor.

On January 2, 2008, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota announced that Martin Tankleff would not face a retrial.



Martin Tankleff gets more than $3.3 million settlement from New York state

BY John Marzulli - New York Daily News

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Martin Tankleff — the Long Island man who spent 17 years in prison for killing his parents before the case was overturned — received $3.375 million from the state after settling his wrongful conviction lawsuit.

Tankleff — who was 17 when his parents were found brutally murdered — is still suing Suffolk County and the detectives who investigated the case in a separate suit still pending in Federal Court.

“I am looking forward to my federal trial where I hope to expose the misconduct that caused my wrongful conviction so that it does not happen to anyone else,” Tankleff said in a statement.

The settlement in the wrongful imprisonment suit was announced Tuesday by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Tankleff’s parents, Seymour and Arlene, were brutally killed in their Belle Terre home in 1988.

An appeals court threw out the conviction in 2007 after evidence was uncovered suggesting a former business partner of Seymour Tankleff had a strong motive to kill him.

Tankleff, 42, has been attending Touro Law School and is scheduled to graduate in May. He has been assisting a team of lawyers representing him in the two lawsuits.

Tankleff contends he was tricked into making a false confession to the murders by rogue homicide detectives who zeroed in on the victims’ son from the beginning and refused to consider other suspects.

Seymour Tankleff’s business partner in a bagel store, Jerry Steuerman, was questioned under oath for the federal lawsuit last year and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 140 times, according to court papers.


Marty Tankleff: A True Story of a False Confession


September 7, 1988: A Long Island Teenager Discovers His Parents Stabbed and Bludgeoned

Marty Tankleff woke up on the first day of his senior year in high school to discover his mother and father brutally stabbed and bludgeoned, his mother—Arlene Tankleff—dead, his father—Seymour Tankleff—unconscious but alive. Marty called 911 and gave first-aid to his father.

The Lead Detective Ignores the Obvious Suspect and Interrogates Marty

When the police arrived, Marty immediately identified the likely suspect: his father's bagel-store partner, who owed his father half a million dollars, had recently violently threatened his parents, and who was the last guest to leave the Tankleff home the night before. A week after the attacks, as Marty's father lay unconscious in the hospital, the business partner would fake his own death, disguise himself and flee to California under an alias. Despite the business partner’s motive and opportunity, he has never been considered a suspect by Suffolk County authorities to this day. Instead, the lead detective immediately took Marty to the police station and began a hostile interrogation of him that would last for hours.

A Culture of Corruption in Suffolk County Law Enforcement

At the time of the Tankleff murders, Suffolk County law enforcement was under investigation for corruption—including problems with coerced confessions—by the State Investigation Commission (SIC) on the order of Governor Mario Cuomo. The SIC’s scathing report included a finding that the detective who would interrogate Marty had perjured himself in a previous murder case.

The Detective Lies and a Traumatized, Disoriented
Teenager “Confesses”

The hostile interrogation was no match. Marty had been brought up to trust the police and the word of his father, so when the detective faked a phone call and lied to Marty that his father had come to and identified him as the killer, Marty was led to wonder if he could have blacked out. Only then did the detective read Marty his rights and draft a "confession," which was unsigned and immediately recanted by Marty. Marty’s father  died weeks later, without having regained consciousness.

Marty is Convicted and Sentenced to 50-Years-to-Life

Even today, with DNA testing having proven that a quarter of wrongful convictions were based on false confessions, intelligent and educated people have difficulty accepting the counterintuitive proposition that someone would confess to a murder they didn’t commit. In 1990, despite not one shred of physical evidence linking Marty to the crime, his “confession” was enough to get him convicted and sentenced to 50-years-to-life. Now 34, Marty will be eligible for parole in 2040.


A Private Investigator Finds New Evidence

With the support of two dozen relatives, including the sisters and brother of the murder victims—and with a devoted team of lawyers, an investigator and advocates working pro bono—Marty worked ceaselessly to regain his freedom. In 2001, he convinced a retired New York City homicide detective to conduct a “reinvestigation” into the case. All leads led back to the business partner, whose son, it turns out, sold cocaine out of the bagel stores. The son’s enforcer had bragged over the years about having participated in the Tankleff murders. Through the drug enforcer’s arrest records, the investigator found an accomplice who admitted to having been the getaway driver on the night of the murders.

The New Evidence Hearing

Based on the getaway driver’s affidavit and other corroborating new evidence, Marty's lawyers filed a motion for a new trial, which led to months of evidentiary hearings in a Suffolk County courtroom. As a result of media coverage and further investigation by Marty’s defense team, many new witnesses came forward. By the end of the hearing, over two dozen witnesses would present overwhelming evidence of Marty’s innocence and others’ guilt.

Conflict. Cover-up. Conspiracy?

The Suffolk County DA refused to recuse himself from the hearing despite extreme conflicts of interest. Five years before the Tankleff murders, he had represented the business partner’s son for selling cocaine out of the bagel store. During the SIC hearings, he represented the detective who would go on to take Marty’s “confession.” And his longtime partner had represented the business partner himself. Among the new evidence revealed at the hearing was eyewitness testimony that the business partner had been well acquainted with the lead detective since before the Tankleff murders. This contradicted the trial testimony of the detective, who had been off-duty on the morning of the Tankleff murders but arrived 19 minutes after the early morning call, and who ignored the business partner as a suspect.

Out of Suffolk County

Throughout the hearing, the DA used every tactic at his disposal, including witness intimidation, to discredit the new evidence and protect the conviction. The Suffolk County judge presiding over the hearing ruled in favor of the DA on every motion, and on St. Patrick’s Day of 2006 denied Marty’s motion for a new trial.


The Appeal

Marty appealed his case to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Brooklyn. In a sign of the extraordinary support the case has received, several high profile organizations and individuals  submitted amicus briefs, including 31 former prosecutors, Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and more.

Millions around the world have seen Marty’s story on “48 Hours” and other shows. Thousands of outraged citizens from Suffolk County, New York State, across the United States and as far away as Australia have visited to voice their support and sign a petition calling on the governor and attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor.

Indeed, every impartial observer who has reviewed Marty’s case—including retired judges, law professors, investigative journalists and court officers—agree that Marty deserves a new trial.

Marty's conviction is Vacated

On December 21, 2007, the Appellate Court, Second Department, vacated Marty's conviction and ordered his case back to Suffolk County for a retrial "to be conducted with all convenient speed."

"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," the ruling stated.

Tankleff Awaits Retrial in County Under State Investigation for Its Conduct in Convicting Him in the First Place

On December 28, 2007, The New York Times broke the news that the New York State Investigation Commission (SIC) has begun an official investigation into Suffolk County law enforcement's handling of the Tankleff case. The Times reports the investigation began quietly over a year ago, but was kept quiet until now so as not to interfere with Marty's legal appeal. “The S.I.C. is viewing this as a serious and significant investigation. The commission is looking at how Suffolk County handled this case,” said the Times's source.



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