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
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
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
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.
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.
Marty Tankleff: A True Story of a
I: SUFFOLK COUNTY JUSTICE
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
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,
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
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.
II: MARTY KEEPS THE FAITH
A Private Investigator Finds New
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.
III: THE TRUTH SETS MARTY FREE - FOR NOW
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 MartyTankleff.org 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
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
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.