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Martin Tankleff awarded $10 million settlement in Suffolk

The Suffolk County Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee approved the agreement on a 5-0 vote.

Martin Tankleff discusses his lawsuit with his attorneys

Martin Tankleff discusses his lawsuit with his attorneys on Aug. 4, 2017. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suffolk County lawmakers on Thursday approved a $10 million settlement for Martin Tankleff, who served 17 years in prison for killing his parents before an appellate court overturned the conviction in 2007.

The legislature’s Ways and Means Committee voted 5-0 for the settlement, which was recommended by County Attorney Dennis Brown.

“There’s no amount of money that can ever restore my life or give me back everything that I lost,” Tankleff, 46, said late Thursday in a phone interview. The money will allow him to focus on his work on wrongful convictions, including teaching a class at Georgetown University that is examining four cases, he said.

“When I hear people talk about closure, closure isn’t in this. The closest thing to closure that I could accept is if the district attorney sits down with us, and lets us present everything we have on who killed my parents,” Tankleff said, referring to himself and his legal team.

Legislative committee chairwomen Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) said, “We have to consider the exposure to taxpayers to large verdicts. This seemed like a fair settlement.”

The committee action represented the final vote on the settlement. Large settlements typically are bonded, and the full legislature would have to vote to approve borrowing.

In 1990, Tankleff was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison for bludgeoning and stabbing his parents, Arlene and Seymour Tankleff, to death in their Belle Terre home in 1988, when he was 17.

The conviction was based largely on a confession written by Suffolk detectives, even though Tankleff refused to sign it and repudiated it almost immediately.

In 2007, an appellate court overturned his conviction, ruling that Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow did not properly consider new evidence brought forth by Tankleff’s legal team.

Tankleff sued Suffolk County in federal court in 2009, claiming detectives who investigated the murder fabricated a false confession and suppressed exculpatory evidence.

Tankleff attorney Bruce Barket said of the settlement amount: “Obviously we thought it was on the low end, but a fair amount or we wouldn’t have agreed to it.”

Barket continued, “He was in jail for 17 1⁄2 years for something he didn’t do.”

Tankleff plans to ask Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini to reopen the case into who killed his parents, using new evidence obtained in preparing for the federal civil case, said Barket, who would not detail the evidence.

“Marty’s been exonerated and he wants to bring justice to the people involved,” Barket said.

Tankleff received a $3.375 million settlement from New York State under the Unjust Imprisonment and Conviction Act, according to Emma Freudenberger, an attorney with the New York-based Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, which was lead counsel in the case.

The county does not admit any wrongdoing in the $10 million settlement, but Freudenberger said, “the dollar amount speaks for itself.”

Police and prosecutors originally on the case stood by their original findings.

Leonard Lato, a former Suffolk prosecutor who handled the motions for a new trial and appeals from 2003 to 2007, called it a “bad settlement. In my view, if the case were tried in front of a federal jury, the jury would have come to the same conclusion that the trial jury did years ago, that Tankleff killed his parents.”

Robert Doyle, a former Suffolk detective sergeant who supervised the team of homicide detectives on the Tankleff murder case, said Thursday: “To this day, I truly believe we had the right man responsible for the deaths of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff. I find the $10 million a complete waste of taxpayer money. And I believe the county should have tried the case.”

Doyle retired in 2010.

Martin Tankleff passed the New York State bar exam in 2017 and plans to become a lawyer, Barket said.

Brown and County Executive Steve Bellone spokesman Jason Elan declined to comment about the settlement. Sini spokesman Justin Meyers did not respond to a request for comment.

TIMELINE

September 1988. Martin Tankleff, 17, is charged with murder after telling police he found his mother, Arlene, dead and his father, Seymour, bleeding profusely from a neck wound in their Belle Terre home. After police interrogation, Tankleff confesses and almost immediately recants.

June 1990. Tankleff is convicted of two counts of second-degree murder.

October. Tankleff gets 50 years to life in prison.

December 1994. State Court of Appeals denies new trial, ruling the confession was voluntary.

August 2003. Glenn Harris gives Tankleff’s lawyers a sworn statement that he drove Joseph Creedon and Peter Kent to the Tankleff house on the night of the slayings and that Creedon and Kent came out of the house with blood on them. Others come forward to implicate Creedon, Kent and Seymour Tankleff’s former business partner, Jerry Steuerman. None were ever charged.

March 2006. Suffolk judge rejects motion for new trial.

December 2007. Appellate Division orders new trial, citing new evidence “of such character . . . that had such evidence been received at the trial the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant.”

June 20, 2008: State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo drops murder charges against Tankleff.

July 22: A Suffolk judge dismisses the charges against Tankleff, in response to a motion filed by Cuomo.

January 2014: Tankleff settles his false-imprisonment lawsuit with New York State for $3.375 million.

October 2017: A federal judge gives attorneys for Tankleff and Suffolk County until the end of the year to reach a settlement agreement.

April 19, 2018: Suffolk legislative committee approves $10 million settlement for Tankleff.

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