Tankleff murder investigation ends

A state investigation into the killing of an entrepreneur and his wife ends with no new criminal charges, but vindicates their son.

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(Fortune Small Business) -- After 20 years of protesting his innocence - 17 of them spent behind bars - Martin Tankleff has finally been cleared of responsibility for the 1988 murder of his parents, thanks to a motion filed by the New York Attorney General's office on Monday.

Following a six-month investigation, the state concluded that the 20-year-old evidence was "insufficient to conclude or to prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that Tankleff killed Arlene and Seymour Tankleff, the owner of a small chain of Long Island bagel shops. At the time of the murders, Tankleff's father was involved in a dispute with his business partner, whom Tankleff's supporters have long viewed as a potential perpetrator of the crime.

"We're overjoyed," said Bruce Barket, one of Tankleff's lawyers. "It's an unbelievable victory for Marty."

In the motion, Benjamin Rosenberg, the chief trial counsel to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo wrote that there was "some evidence that others may have committed the killings."

The investigation unearthed new forensic evidence: the bloody imprint of what appeared to be a knife was found on Arlene Tankleff's bed sheet. The imprint did not match the knife that had been identified as the murder weapon in the case against Tankleff, nor any other knife found in the home of the Tankleffs.

"Either Marty swallowed the knife, or someone took it out of the house," Barket said. "That to me is game, set and match on whether or not he committed the crime."

In the state's words: "This new evidence significantly weakens the case against Tankleff."

However, the state's investigators found no evidence against any other individuals strong enough to incite a new prosecution. Tankleff's defense team had argued that Seymour Tankleff's business partner, Jerry Steuerman, should be a primary suspect.

Steuerman refused to cooperate in the state's investigation. But in Monday's motion, the state concluded that "on balance, the defense theory does not appear to be supported by clear evidence."

"It's disappointing too," said Tankleff, 36, in an interview with FSB. "I'm relieved that the case against me is over, but we still want justice."

According to Barket, New York's statute of limitations means that the events happened too long ago for his team to sue those whom they believe committed the murders.

"We're hoping law enforcement will pursue those responsible," he said.

In the meantime, Tankleff's defense team is considering bringing a civil suit against the state to compensate him for the years he spent incarcerated.

Tankleff has been free since December, when the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court vacated Tankleff's conviction after ruling that new evidence created a "probability" that Tankleff would not have been convicted for his parents' killing had the evidence been considered by the jury.

In January, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was appointed as special prosecutor by then-governor Eliot Spitzer. Cuomo's office was given the task of investigating both the case against Tankleff and the alternative suspects identified by Tankleff's defense team.

Investigators interviewed 70 witnesses across the U.S. and brought in experts from numerous fields, including forensic pathology and DNA testing, according to the state motion.

While it appears that no new criminal charges for the murders are on the horizon, Tankleff's team is pleased that a 20-year old goal has finally been achieved.

"This is a vindication of what Marty has maintained for years: that he's innocent," Barket said.

Tankleff has spent the past six months enjoying life outside the confines of prison. On Tuesday he attended classes at Hofstra University, where he is studying to become a criminal-defense lawyer. To top of page

Murder charges dropped in Tankleff killing

Silenced Partner?: The son of a bagel-shop owner sits in prison, convicted of murdering his parents over petty resentments. But now a judge is weighing new evidence that may link the crime to the victims' business ventures.
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