Martin Tankleff is one big step closer to becoming an attorney — 10 years after he was freed from prison when an appellate court overturned his conviction for killing his parents.
Tankleff, 45, found out this week he passed the New York State bar exam. He hopes to be eligible to practice law by the end of the year.
“It’s a long, long battle,” Tankleff said. “I hope to be able to give back to the legal community.”
He plans to do that by continuing work he’s already doing fighting wrongful convictions. He is the vice president of Absolutely Innocent, a Manhattan nonprofit that works on behalf of wrongfully convicted defendants. He also serves on the Innocence Project’s Exoneree Advisory Group.
Tankleff was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison after he was convicted of 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 during a monthslong hearing.
That evidence suggested that Seymour Tankleff’s business partner, Jerry Steuerman, hired a pair of hit men to kill the Tankleffs. Steuerman, who owed Seymour Tankleff $500,000 and fled to California after the murders under an assumed name after faking his death, has always denied having anything to do with the crime.
Tankleff said he wanted to help people who are going through what he experienced.
“I would love to emulate the lawyers in the wrongful conviction movement,” Tankleff said. “Who better to understand the system than someone who’s been through the system?”
Colleagues say he’s already making a difference. Bruce Barket, the Garden City attorney who helped win Tankleff’s freedom, said his former client’s determination in passing the bar after several attempts is inspiring.
Manhattan attorney Steven Metcalf said Tankleff has been a valuable help to him on a Bronx case in which he’s trying to get a rape conviction vacated.
“Marty’s exceptional,” Metcalf said, adding that Tankleff has been involved in every aspect of the case as a paralegal and advisor. “I’m really happy. Look at what this guy has gone through. He has not a single chip on his shoulder.”
Tankleff, who graduated three years ago from Touro Law School in Central Islip, lives now in the Babylon area with his wife, Laurie, and their 20-year-old daughter.
“It was a long road, obviously,” Laurie Tankleff said, who encouraged him throughout the process. “I just needed him to know he had all the love in the world.”