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Martin Tankleff documentary takes another look at 1988 case

Suffolk homicide detectives James McCready (left) and Robert

Suffolk homicide detectives James McCready (left) and Robert Doyle interview Martin Tankleff outside the Tankleff's Belle Terre home on Sept. 7, 1988, just hours after his mother was found murdered and his father was found gravely injured there. Tankleff was convicted of the murders in 1990. Photo Credit: Newsday / Tony Jerome

The Long Island man who said he was wrongfully convicted of killing his parents — and spent 17 years in prison before his conviction was thrown out by a state appeals court — does not mind telling his story one more time.

Martin Tankleff’s account, from his 1988 arrest to his long and arduous fight for freedom, will be featured on the debut episode of Investigation Discovery’s newsmagazine show “The Real Story with Maria Elena Salinas.” It is scheduled to air on Monday at 10 p.m.

In the decade since his release, Tankleff has spoken publicly about his ordeal, and has sought justice for his parents. No one else ever was charged in the murders.

“One of the primary reasons why I did it [the show] is to get the story out there because those we identified as responsible are still roaming the streets,” Tankleff, 45, said Tuesday in an interview with Newsday.

Tankleff’s parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, were found bludgeoned and stabbed in the family’s Belle Terre home on the morning of Sept. 7, 1988. Martin Tankleff, then 17, gave police an unsigned confession that he quickly recanted and maintained was coerced. Two years later, Tankleff was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

An appellate court threw out his conviction in 2007, ruling that a Suffolk judge failed to consider new evidence that others may have committed the crime.

Tankleff has maintained that his father’s business partner, Jerry Steuerman, was behind the killings. Steuerman, who has denied any role in the couple’s murders, invoked his right against self-incrimination when Tankleff’s lawyers wanted to question him in connection with Tankleff’s wrongful conviction lawsuit. That federal suit, which Tankleff filed against Suffolk County and others in 2009, is pending.

Ron Simon, executive producer with Investigation Discovery, said the staffers who worked on this episode hope that the airing of Tankleff’s story would prod anyone with information about the double slayings to come forward.

“The episode also digs into the fact that — decades after the crime — there is still injustice in the murders of Arlene and Seymour Tankleff as long as Suffolk County prosecutors and police avoid solving this case,” Simon said in an email.

The show, hosted by Salinas, a Univision news anchor, also includes interviews with the people who played crucial roles in helping to set Tankleff free: his attorney, Bruce Barket of Garden City, private investigator Jay Salpeter, and Karlene Kovacs, a woman who said that at a gathering in Farmingdale she heard Joseph Creedon, a career criminal, bragging about being involved in the Tankleff killings and saying a man named Steuerman had been at the murder scene.

In the decade since his release, Tankleff, who lives in Suffolk County, has married, become a father, earned a law degree, and is working to free others who claim they’ve been wrongfully convicted.

The newsmagazine show reaches a national audience, which Tankleff said provides a platform for him to highlight problems with the criminal justice system.

“Wrongful conviction is not a local problem. It’s a national epidemic,” he said. “The only way we’re going to change the system is for a story like mine to be told.”

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