Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Marty Tankleff's Story in Brief

A while ago, I got to see Marty's story on "48 Hours Mysteries" on MBC 4 I was seriously touched by it. I felt so bad that I cried. I've always been active in activism for justice. I've volunteered to do work in Palestinian refugee camps and I've took stand in demos in the US and so on. I decided to take a more personal favor to somebody... This is his story. I hope you can help me spread his story around and maybe spread the love around. I've already contacted Marty. He's a real nice guy and hopefully I was able to help him in one way or anything.

On the morning of September 7th, 1988, Marty Tankleff woke up in his family's large waterfront home on Long Island, New York, to what should have been the first day of his senior year in high school. Instead he discovered his parents brutally stabbed and bludgeoned, his mother--Arlene Tankleff--dead, his father--Seymour Tankleff--unconscious but alive. Marty called 911 and, following the operator's instructions, gave first-aid to his father.

When the police came, Marty immediately told them who the likely suspect was: Jerry Steuerman, his father's business partner in a chain of bagel stores, who owed his father over half a million dollars, had threatened his parents earlier in the summer, and was the last guest to leave a poker game in the Tankleff home the night before. A week after the attacks, as Marty's father lay unconscious in the hospital, Steuerman faked his own death, changed his appearance, took on an alias and fled to California. Yet, to this day, he has never been considered a suspect by Suffolk County authorities.

[Jerry Steuerman]

Despite Steuerman's motive and opportunity, and the fact that not one shred of physical evidence linked Marty to the crime, Detective James McCready took the traumatized teenager to the police station and began a hostile interrogation of Marty that lasted for hours. It was no match. Marty had been brought up to trust the police and the word of his father, so when Detective McCready faked a phone call and lied that Marty's father had come to and identified Marty as the killer, Marty was led to wonder if he could have blacked out. Then McCready finally read Marty his rights and started drafting a "confession," which was interrupted by the Tankleff's family lawyer as soon as he discovered Marty was in custody and being interrogated. The "confession" was unsigned and immediately recanted by Marty.

[Detective James McCready]

At the time of the murders and Marty's "confession," the Suffolk County police department and district attorney's office were growing notorious for their extraordinarily high confession rate compared to other counties. From Newsday reports in the mid-80's--including a multi-part series titled "The Confession Takers" and headlines like "Three Murders, One Confession"--the impression one got was that taking confessions took up most of their knowledge base, with the forensic lab in disrepair, and so forth. It got so bad that a Suffolk County judge named Stuart Namm--subsequently nicknamed "The Serpico of Judges"--got Governor Mario Cuomo to order the State Investigation Commission to hold hearings on the police department and DA's office. The Commission's Report painted a scathing portrait of corruption and wrongdoing. Among its findings was that Detective McCready, who wrote Marty's "confession," had perjured himself in a previous murder case.
In 1990, long before DNA testing would suggest that some 25% of wrongful convictions are based on false or coerced confessions, Marty's "confession" was enough for the jury to convict him. Marty was sentenced to 50 years to life and will not be eligible for parole until 2040, when he'll be 69 years old.
To this day, two dozen of Marty's relatives, including the sisters and brother of the victims, have proclaimed Marty's innocence, with one exception: Marty's half-sister Shari, who supported Marty at first but later stated she believed he was guilty. According to the will, Marty would have inherited the bulk of the multimillion dollar estate, but Shari ended up receiving about one-third, more than the stipend she would have received from the trust. (Marty received one-third, which was spent on legal fees, and one-third went to a trust at Hofstra University.)

New Evidence

From the day he went into prison, Marty began doing everything to prove his innocence and reclaim his freedom. On homemade stationery quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ("Injustice found anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere") he wrote thousands of letters to anyone and everyone who could possibly help him.

[Marty Tankleff, 2004]

In 2001, Marty convinced Jay Salpeter, a former New York City homicide detective and now a private investigator on Long Island, to join his team.
As the investigator looked into the case, everything led back to Seymour Tankleff's business partner. It turns out that more than bagels were being sold out of the bagel stores. The business partner's son--Todd Steuerman--sold cocaine out of the stores, and his enforcer/collector was a guy named Joey "Guns" Creedon. Over the years, Creedon has bragged to many people about being involved in the Tankleff murders.

[Joey "Guns" Creedon]

The investigator looked through Creedon's arrest records, and learned that he had once been caught trying to burglarize one of the bagel stores. Creedon's accomplice was a man named Glenn Harris. Salpeter tracked down Harris, who was in jail on another matter, and got the sense that Harris wanted to get something off his chest.

Harris told the investigator that on September 7, 1988, he was the getaway driver for what he thought at the time was a burglary of a home on Long Island. He said he drove Creedon and another man to the home and watched them go around to the back of the house as he waited in the car. Twenty or so minutes later, they "came running to the car" and were "nervous" and "winded" and told Harris to get them out of there. Later Harris saw one of them burning his clothes. When he heard the radio reports about the crime, Harris knew that something more than a burglary had taken place.

Based on this new evidence, Marty's lawyers filed a motion for a new trial and a Suffolk County judge ordered an evidentiary hearing, which lasted seven months, ending in March, 2005. Based on extensive coverage in the New York Times, Newsday and on "48 Hours," several new witnesses have come forward corroborating the getaway driver's version of events. Among the new evidence revealed at the hearing was eyewitness testimony that Detective McCready, contrary to his sworn testimony at the original trial, and Jerry Steuerman were acquaintances prior to the Tankleff murders.

But the district attorney's office has used every tactic at its disposal, including witness intimidation, to discredit the new evidence and protect the conviction. Many of the powers that be are holdovers from that Suffolk County law enforcement era of the 80's that Marty dealt with the first time around. The judge who presided over the original trial and sentenced Marty is now the Suffolk County Sheriff. The assistant district attorney who prosecuted him is now head of the homicide division.

And Thomas Spota is now the Suffolk County district attorney. Back in the 80's, when the State Commission was investigating Suffolk law enforcement, Spota represented the police and detectives, including Detective McCready, who was found to have perjured himself in a previous murder trial. Later, in the early 90's, Spota successfully defended McCready on charges of viciously beating a man outside a bar.

[Detective McCready and his lawyer Thomas Spota following McCready's acquital on assault charges.]

And that's not all. Spota's law partner (it's not clearly documented whether they were current or former partners, or whether they were sharing office space at the time) had represented Seymour Tankleff's business partner, Jerry Steuerman, in the late 80's, and Spota's firm had represented Jerry Steuerman's son Todd in the early 80's for selling cocaine out of his father's bagel store, to which he pled guilty. And, while we're at it, another of Spota's partners in his small firm was the first ADA on the Tankleff case. Despite these conflicts, Spota has refused to recuse himself, and Suffolk County Judge Stephen Braslow has ruled against the defense's motion for a special prosecutor.

Closing arguments are now being submitted in written briefs, and Judge Braslow is expected to rule this summer on whether a jury, having heard all of the new evidence, would likely reach a different verdict than at the original trial.

There are three possible outcomes of the ruling: 1) Marty's conviction would be vacated and he would be set free, 2) Marty would be granted a new trial or 3) Marty's motion would be denied and he would be shipped back upstate to the Great Meadow maximum security prison in Comstock, New York.

Marty's family and supporters are both optimistic, because of the abundance of new evidence, and pessimistic, because they've been disappointed so many times over the past 17 years. "After all," they say, "it's Suffolk County."

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