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Charges Dropped for Man Convicted of Killing Parents

January 06, 2008 04:05 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A New York District Attorney announces he will not seek a retrial for Martin Tankleff, convicted of murder in 1990 and freed on bail last week. As in comparable cases with teenage suspects, Martin, 17 at the time of the killing, may have temporarily become convinced he was guilty.

30-Second Summary

When police found Arlene Tankleff dead and her husband, Seymour, dying in their Long Island home on Sept. 7, 1988, suspicion quickly fell on their son Martin, a high school senior.

Martin, who said he was asleep during the attacks, was interrogated for hours. During that time, he became convinced his father had regained consciousness and accused him. Martin gave a confession that he immediately recanted and wouldn’t sign. His father died, and the confession was used to convict Martin of his parents’ murder. At age 19, he was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

Witnesses later implicated Peter Kent and Joseph Creedon. Those witnesses also suggested that Jerard Steuerman, a business partner who owed Tankleff senior $500,000, was behind the murders.

Steuerman moved to California and changed his name soon after the Tankleffs were killed. To this day, Steuerman denies involvement and the police have never identified him as a suspect.

Tankleff’s attorneys requested a retrial based on the new evidence, but a county judge disagreed. The state appellate court overturned the lower court’s decision, vacated the conviction, and ordered a new trial. Tankleff was released on bail at the end of December and expected to stand trial, until Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota made his announcement Wednesday.

Studies have shown teenagers are more susceptible to the delusions that lead to false confessions, and cases similar to Tankleff’s abound in the judicial system.

In Mississippi, a 13-year-old boy who confessed to his brother-in-law’s murder and then recanted is awaiting a retrial, though someone else is on death row for the same crime.

There are other cases where divergent, even contradictory, accounts of a single murder have led to multiple guilty convictions in separate trials. In Texas a man was executed after he confessed to murder and then recanted. His sister was convicted of the same crime. Prosecutors in the latter trial said that even though the brother didn’t kill the victim, he did participate in other aspects of the murder.

Headline Links: Suffolk DA drops Martin Tankleff murder case

Background: Tankleff case timeline; court documents

Opinion & Analysis: Tankleff family support; questions remain

Related Material: False confessions; double convictions


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