NEW YORK – A Long Island man was freed from prison on Thursday, 17 years after being convicted of murdering his parents in a case that was dogged with accusations of unfair prosecution.
Martin Tankleff was released on $1 million bond and called the day "a dream come true."
He thanked his friends, supporters and witnesses who came forward "because it was the right thing to do," and added, "I always had faith this day would come."
An appeals court overturned Tankleff's 1990 conviction on Friday, saying new evidence suggested someone else might have killed Seymour and Arlene Tankleff in their Long Island home.
Tankleff was 17 when his parents were bludgeoned and stabbed in their Belle Terre house in 1988. After a detective falsely told the teen his father had awakened from a coma and implicated him, Tankleff confessed to the crimes. But he quickly repudiated it, refusing to sign a written statement police had prepared.
After Tankleff's conviction, private detectives working on his behalf turned up witnesses who implicated a business partner of his father's and others in the killings.
The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Brooklyn said it was "probable" that a new jury would render a different verdict if given a chance to hear all the evidence now available, including how the police obtained Tankleff's confession.
Relatives paid the $1 million bond, allowing Tankleff to leave the courthouse a free man after Thursday's bail hearing in Riverhead, N.Y., 75 miles east of Manhattan.
Tankleff, 36, was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison after being convicted in 1990 of murder in one of the nation's first televised trials.
On Sept. 7, 1988, the day his parents were found slain in their waterfront home in Belle Terre, a well-to-do neighborhood on Long Island's north shore, Tankleff was about to start the first day of his senior year in high school.
He first told police that when he awoke for school he discovered his father, Seymour, gravely wounded in the study of the family home, and saw the body of his mother, Arlene, on her bedroom floor. He suggested that a partner in his father's bagel business could be the killer, noting the partner owed Seymour Tankleff hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that he had been the last one at the home for a poker game the night before.
The business partner, Jerald Steuerman, was never charged and has denied any involvement in the crimes.
After questioning Tankleff at the home and at police headquarters, detectives falsely told him that his father had awoken from a coma and named him as the killer. At that point, Tankleff wondered aloud if he might have "blacked out" and committed the crimes.
Police then read him his rights to an attorney under the Miranda ruling, but Tankleff waived his rights and confessed to attacking his parents. Seymour Tankleff died a few weeks later. The motive for the killings, he told police at the time, was that he was angry over a variety of slights, including being made to drive a "crummy old Lincoln."
Relatives and supporters have tried over the years to win Tankleff the right to a new trial.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota did not immediately say whether he would seek to prosecute Tankleff again.