NEW YORK – Martin Tankleff walked out of court a free man for the first time in the 17 years since he was convicted of murdering his parents. But his next step was less clear.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will retry Tankleff, who was released on $1 million bail Thursday, days after an appeals court overturned his 1990 conviction and ordered a new trial because of new evidence. Relatives paid the bail.
"My arrest and conviction was a nightmare, and this is a dream come true," the 36-year-old Tankleff told reporters after a hearing in Riverhead, 75 miles east of Manhattan.
Tankleff's attorney, Bruce Barket, said he was awaiting Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota's decision on whether to retry the case.
In throwing out Tankleff's 1990 conviction last week, an appeals court said new evidence suggested someone else might have killed Seymour and Arlene Tankleff in their Long Island home.
Tankleff had been sentenced to 50 years to life in prison after being convicted in one of the nation's first televised trials. The case raised questions about police interrogation tactics and drew the support of the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people.
Innocence Project executive director Barry Scheck said the district attorney should ask for an independent special prosecutor or state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to evaluate whether the case should be reprosecuted.
"This is one of those cases that has bothered the entire legal community for more than a decade," Scheck said.
Tankleff was 17 years old when his parents were bludgeoned and stabbed. He told police he found them on Sept. 7, 1988, in their waterfront home in Belle Terre. His mother was dead; his father was gravely wounded and died a few weeks later.
The teen suggested that a partner in his father's bagel business could be the killer. He said the partner owed Seymour Tankleff hundreds of thousands of dollars. The business partner, Jerry Steuerman, was never charged and has denied involvement in the crimes.
The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court in Brooklyn said in a ruling made public Dec. 21 that it was probable a new jury would render a different verdict if given a chance to hear all the evidence now available, including how police obtained Tankleff's confession.
After questioning Tankleff at 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 whether he might have "blacked out" and committed the crimes.
Police said they read him his Miranda warning, but Tankleff waived his rights and confessed to attacking his parents. He said he was angry at his parents over a variety of slights, including being made to drive a "crummy old Lincoln," police said.
However, Tankleff quickly withdrew the confession, refusing to sign a statement police had prepared.