Marty Tankleff spent most of his adult life in the New York prison system. Wrongfully convicted of killing his parents, even his high-priced team of legal experts was unable to help him secure a new trial. That was until a hard-hitting private investigator helped them crack the case.
From the outside looking in, Long Island’s Martin “Marty” Tankleff seems to have it all. At 46, he is the vice president of Absolutely Innocent, a Manhattan nonprofit, an integral part of the Innocence Project’s Exoneree Advisory Group, and a 2014 graduate of the Touro Law Center. With his wife Laurie by his side, he has passed the New York Bar and established the Marty and Laurie Scholarship for law students pursuing criminal defense work. He’s even considered a congress run.
But Tankleff’s life today is a far cry from his former life as an inmate at the Clinton Correctional Facility. In 2007, Tankleff was released from prison after 17 years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit. Convicted of murdering his parents in their Belle Terre home, Tankleff spent his twenties and thirties as just a number. And it likely would have remained that way if a former NYPD detective turned private investigator hadn’t been determined to get to the truth.
Coming on the case in the early 2000s, this top New York Private Investigator was brought on to after years of failed appeals and a standstill in the investigation. Though it wasn’t a quick process, with a private investigator in the lead, a possible murder weapon was unearthed, new witnesses were discovered, and a long-hidden confession from an accomplice to the murder. Suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope.
But to understand how this determined New York private investigator was able to help exonerate his condemned client, one must first understand what a stone-cold case he was handed.
At the time of his arrest, Marty Tankleff was a seventeen-year-old high school senior with his whole life ahead of him. Adopted by Arlene and Seymour Tankleff at birth and raised in an affluent community as their “gift from God”, Tankleff was his parents’ pride and joy.
Understandably, a shudder swept through the community when the Tankleffs were bludgeoned to death in their million-dollar home in the wee hours of the morning, September 7, 1988. With the Tankleff’s throats slit and left for dead, what was even more shocking than the brutal attack was their only son’s confession. Just before the sunset that autumn day, Marty Tankleff was charged with his parents’ double murder. The case closed. Or did it?
Shortly after his police-proclaimed confession, Tankleff recanted. Though police claimed Marty admitted to attacking parents with a knife and a barbell because of a tumultuous family life, he now claimed that he was innocent. Although he admitted that his relationship with his parents was strained by arguments about college, luxury vehicles, and looming divorce, Tankleff disputed the police’s account of his interview and maintained that his so-called confession was coerced.
Though members of his family were convinced of his innocence, a jury of his peers was not. On June 28, 1990, nearly two years after his parents’ murder, Marty Tankleff was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.
A decade later, Tankleff would still be maintaining his innocence when a private investigator would be brought on to shake-up the case.
Going back to the scene of the crime and delving into the dust-covered case files, this New York private investigator was able to retrace the footsteps of the real killers and put not only a name of a different killer but also a possible weapon in the hands of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. By piecing together a different narrative, this was able to do what well-paid state detectives and high-priced attorneys had not.
He won his client a new trial. A New York state private investigator had cracked the case.
During this appeal, the defense would present the New York investigator’s version along with 20 new witnesses and an array of evidence. They would insist that it was Mr. Seymour Tankleff’s bagel store partner, and not Marty, who murdered the couple in cold blood. Witness testimony painted Jerry Steuerman as a drug-dealer who owed the older Tankleff over half a million dollars and despite his debt, was violent and threatening with the couple. He was also the last guest to leave the Tankleff house right before the murders.
Surprisingly, this possible suspect wasn’t a new name. In fact, Jerry Steuerman was a well-known acquaintance of the lead detective who took Marty Tankleff’s confession. Just a week after the attacks, Steuerman had withdrawn money from a joint bank account, fled to California under an alias, and even faked his own death. Steuerman’s accused “getaway driver” even admitted to a role in the crime. But despite these events and his shady motives, even to this day, Jerry Steuerman has never been considered a suspect.
The Steuerman narrative may not have been enough to bring an actual conviction, but the New York Investigator’s version of events it did cast a shadow of doubt wide enough to exonerate Marty Tankleff. On December 21st, 2007, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York ordered a retrial.
The trial would never take place. In June of 2008, the Attorney General’s office cited insufficient evidence to prove his guilt when announcing that they would not move forward with a retrial. A month later, all charges would be dismissed. All thanks to the hiring of a New York private investigator.
Almost three decades later, Tankleff and his legal team are now gearing up for another legal battle. One against Suffolk County alleging that detectives that falsely accused him of murder.
Although the outcome of that case is yet to be revealed, Marty Tankleff is determined to continue his work helping others who have been wrongly accused of a crime they did not commit.
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