The story in Brief
I: SUFFOLK COUNTY JUSTICE
September 7, 1988: A Long Island Teenager Discovers His Parents Stabbed and Bludgeoned
Marty Tankleff wakes up on the first day of his senior year in high school to discover his mother and father brutally stabbed and bludgeoned, his mother—Arlene Tankleff—dead, his father—Seymour Tankleff—unconscious but alive. Marty calls 911 and gives first-aid to his father.
The Detective Ignores the Obvious Suspect and Interrogates Marty
When the police arrive, Marty immediately identifies the likely suspect: his father's bagel-store partner, who owed his father half a million dollars, had recently violently threatened his parents, and who was the last guest to leave the Tankleff home the night before. A week after the attacks, as Marty's father lay unconscious in the hospital, the business partner would fake his own death, disguise himself and flee to California under an alias. Despite the business partner’s motive and opportunity, he has never been considered a suspect by Suffolk County authorities to this day. Instead, the lead detective immediately takes Marty to the police station and beginning a hostile interrogation of him that would last for hours.
A Culture of Corruption in Suffolk County Law Enforcement
At the time of the Tankleff murders, Suffolk County law enforcement was under investigation for corruption—including problems with coerced confessions—by the State Investigation Commission (SIC) on the order of Governor Mario Cuomo. The SIC’s scathing report included a finding that the detective who would interrogate Marty had perjured himself in a previous murder case.
The Detective Lies and a Traumatized, Disoriented
The hostile interrogation is no match. Marty had been brought up to trust the police and the word of his father, so when the detective fakes a phone call and lies that Marty's father had come to and identified Marty as the killer, Marty is led to wonder if he could have blacked out. Only then does the detective read Marty his rights and draft a "confession," which was unsigned and immediately recanted by Marty. Marty’s father would die weeks later, without having regained consciousness.
Marty is Convicted and Sentenced to 50-Years-to-Life
Even today, with DNA testing having proven that a quarter of wrongful convictions were based on false confessions, intelligent and educated people have difficulty accepting the counterintuitive proposition that someone would confess to a murder they didn’t commit. In 1990, despite not one shred of physical evidence linking Marty to the crime, his “confession” was enough to get him convicted and sentenced to 50-years-to-life. Now 34, Marty will be eligible for parole in 2040.
II: MARTY KEEPS THE FAITH
A Private Investigator Finds New Evidence
With the support of two dozen relatives, including the sisters and brother of the murder victims—and with a devoted team of lawyers, an investigator and advocates working pro bono—Marty works ceaselessly to regain his freedom. In 2001, he convinces a retired New York City homicide detective to join his team and conduct a “reinvestigation” into the case. All leads point back to the business partner, whose son, it turns out, sold cocaine out of the bagel stores. The son’s enforcer had bragged over the years about having participated in the Tankleff murders. Through the drug enforcer’s arrest records, the investigator finds an accomplice who admits to having been the getaway driver on the night of the murders.
The New Evidence Hearing
Based on the getaway driver’s affidavit and other corroborating new evidence, Marty's lawyers file a motion for a new trial, which leads to months of evidentiary hearings in a Suffolk County courtroom. As a result of media coverage and further investigation by Marty’s defense team, many new witnesses come forward. By the end of the hearing, nearly two dozen witnesses would present overwhelming evidence of Marty’s innocence and others’ guilt.
Conflict. Cover-up. Conspiracy?
The Suffolk County DA refuses to recuse himself from the hearing despite extreme conflicts of interest. Five years before the Tankleff murders, he had represented the business partner’s son for selling cocaine out of the bagel store. During the SIC hearings, he represented the detective who would go on to take Marty’s “confession.” And his longtime partner had represented the business partner himself. Among the new evidence revealed at the hearing is eyewitness testimony that the business partner had been well acquainted with the lead detective since before the Tankleff murders. This contradicted the trial testimony of the detective, who had been off-duty on the morning of the Tankleff murders but arrived 19 minutes after the early morning call, and who ignored the business partner as a suspect.
Out of Suffolk County
Throughout the hearing, the DA uses every tactic at his disposal, including witness intimidation, to discredit the new evidence and protect the conviction. The Suffolk County judge presiding over the hearing rules in favor of the DA on every motion, and on St. Patrick’s Day of 2006 denies Marty’s motion for a new trial.
III: THE TRUTH WILL SET MARTY FREE
Marty’s lawyers now have an application for appeal pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Brooklyn.
Support from the Experts
Every impartial observer who has reviewed Marty’s case—including retired judges, law professors, investigative journalists and court officers—agree that Marty deserves a new trial. In a sign of the extraordinary support the case has received, several high profile organizations and individuals have submitted supporting letters to the appeals court. Barry Scheck, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, wrote, "We’ve taken the unusual step of writing a letter along with our motion because the facts of this case are so strong, and because the lower-court ruling that denied Martin Tankleff a new trial was so misguided and troubling.” The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers called the issues raised in the appeal “unusual such that they are of state and even national importance.”
Support from the Public
Millions around the world have seen Marty’s story on “48 Hours” and other shows. Thousands of outraged citizens from Suffolk County, New York State, across the United States and as far away as Australia have visited MartyTankleff.org to voice their support and sign a petition calling on the governor and attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor.
Join Us in Bringing Truth Back into Fashion
As his supportive family has said, Marty is guilty only of waking up in his own house on September 7th, 1988. Marty could be any one of us. And if Marty Tankleff is innocent, it means the real killers are walking the streets.
The Marty Tankleff case is about more than one man’s freedom. It’s also about demanding accountability, competence, truth and the administration of justice from public officials who claim to represent and protect us, the “People.”