NEW YORK – New York's attorney general will lead a new investigation into the 1988 murders of a Long Island couple whose son served 17-years in prison before an appeals court said he might be innocent.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Saturday appointed Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as a special prosecutor in the case of Arlene and Seymour Tankleff, who were bludgeoned and stabbed to death in their Belle Terre home.
"I'm confident that we can look at it independently with a top team of prosecutors that will follow the evidence wherever it leads," Cuomo said.
The couple's son, Martin Tankleff, was charged with the murders at age 17 and convicted in 1990, but a state appeals court overturned his conviction last month, saying new evidence about other possible suspects was compelling enough to warrant a new trial.
Tankleff's lawyers have contended for years that forensic evidence never supported his disputed confession, and that police had ignored evidence that the murders were the work of a disgruntled family business associate.
He was released from prison on bail and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota announced that he would drop the case rather than try to put on a new trial. The charge was to be formally dismissed next Friday.
However, Cuomo told The Associated Press on Saturday that, with the new investigation barely under way, he is unlikely to make a decision by Friday on whether to have the charge dismissed as Spota planned.
"We'll want to preserve all of our options," Cuomo said. The appointment of a special prosecutor effectively removes Spota from the court case and leaves decisions about how to proceed in Cuomo's hands.
Tankleff's attorneys have demanded for years that a special prosecutor be appointed to replace Spota, but they said Saturday that any delay in the dismissal of the charges would be unfair.
"My concern is needlessly delaying the inevitable," said one of Tankleff's lawyers, Barry J. Pollack. He said he was confident that Cuomo's investigative team would also conclude that Tankleff should not face a retrial.
Spota said in a statement that he supported the appointment of a special prosecutor and would cooperate "fully and completely" with the Attorney General's office.
Tankleff was convicted largely on the strength of a confession he gave to police on the day of the murders.
Investigators used a ruse, telling him his father had regained consciousness and implicated him.
"Could I have blacked out ... and done this?" Tankleff said. He then allegedly told police that his memory was returning, and gave an account of the killings.
Almost immediately, however, Tankleff retracted the confession and claimed it had been the result of emotional manipulation.
Gov. Spitzer said in a written statement that the appointment of a special prosecutor would ensure that the issues that troubled the Appellate court would be "freshly and thoroughly examined."