As horrid as some murder cases go in which the public screams for the death penalty to be applied, there are cases which prove that an innocent man/woman could have been sent to their death. If one innocent person can be put to death by any means, the system itself is flawed.
For close to two decades a Long Island man sat in prison fighting his conviction for murdering his parents. His name is Martin Tankleff. His parents were Arlene and Seymour Tankleff. We must not forget them. Not once did I believe in his guilt but believed others were. Fighting this murder conviction was an uphill battle for Mr. Tankleff along with his defense team, volunteers and supporters who as Tankleff thanked upon release as “making his fight, their fight”
Following the myriad of appeals over the years, one felt as if they were a yo-yo. But, those of us who sat outside those prison walls did not face what Martin Tankleff faced and that was a sentence of fifty-years to life. One has to wonder had New York State had the death penalty upon his conviction and had it been applied to his case, Tankleff may not be free as he is today. The murder of his parents was so brutal that I do feel at the time of their murder, some prosecutor would have asked for the death penalty.
Three days after Christmas upon looking at the cover of Newsday, I read where an appellate court overturned his 1990 conviction. Upon his release from custody and as reported by Newsday, Tankleff had this to say, "My arrest and conviction was a nightmare, and this is a dream come true. ... I always had faith this day would come," At the time of his release from custody it was unclear whether or not the Suffolk County, DA Tom Spota would retry the case with the new evidence found by Tankleff’s legal team especially the private investigator who Tankleff reached out to and had taken on his case pro-bono. In handling his case pro-bono it renews my faith that there are still good people to come to the aid of any one of us.
Released on one million dollars bond put up by family members, Tankleff had this to say, "I hope that I can continue to count on everyone's support as I defend myself again." One cannot fathom how Tankleff felt being on the outside for the first time since his conviction knowing how fast it could be yanked back should a new case be tried in which he had to defend himself all over again.
I had read and heard on the news he was getting used to real food as opposed to prison food, using a laptop computer and even getting to know cell phones. He was able to wake up early in the morning to a beautiful sunrise along with a cup of coffee and that is something he has not been able to do since he was wrongly convicted. He was taking pleasure of the simple things in life that many of us take for granted.
As reported by Newsday, "This is one of those cases that has bothered the entire legal community for more than a decade," Scheck said. "It just shouldn't have taken this long to get the conviction vacated." Barry Scheck is primarily known as being one of the myriad of lawyers who defended O.J. Simpson, but his courageous work through the Innocence Project has been fighting for those facing lengthy sentences and on death row who like Tankleff have felt they were wrongly convicted. To date and according to their web site 210 have been exonerated and many of them did face the death penalty. To think if any one of them had succumbed to this sentence, their death would have been murder as well.
Lawyers for the most part have received negative publicity over the years as being sharks, but thank goodness this country has lawyers like Scheck fighting for the innocent. Many will joke of lawyers, but when faced with a possible life sentence or capital punishment if truly innocent, thank goodness we do have the Barry Schecks in our legal system.
In reading the Newsday article of Tankleff's release from custody this passage truly bothered me "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 whether he might have "blacked out" and committed the crimes." One has to wonder how many times this has occurred throughout the years in which those accused of murder, tried, convicted and perhaps sentenced to death have occurred. Yes, we hear that some within our police departments will use false information to illicit confessions, but when a case rises to the level of the death penalty, this is simply wrong especially if the person accused is innocent. What happens if the wrong person is put to death and that is proven long after they are gone? I would not want to be that police officer later on upon learning that.
As water boarding and other forms of torture have been in the news, I find using false information to be torture and often it does not get at the truth. So, how is it helping any of us let alone those who have been murdered? While Tankleff did originally confess to this crime, he later recanted and that confession should have been dismissed knowing the police used false information in order to gain it. In my opinion, how does that get justice for those who I feel truly killed his parents? It doesn’t. It sends an innocent to prison while the true killers walk free. One has to wonder: How many times has this occurred over the years?
Upon his release from custody, one is truly moved to tears as Tankleff speaks out for the first time in front of the cameras. In going to that link embedded above, type in the name Tankleff in the search box to hear his words. At the moment of his release from custody, while he did make a short statement to the press, he was advised not to answer questions coming from the media by his legal team as he faced possible re-trial.
In speaking in front of the cameras Tankleff’s uncle and aunt, Michael and Maryann McClure have been steadfast supporters of Tankleff. In fact in fighting for a new trial, his aunt who was the sister of his mother was never fully able to mourn the death of her sister. Through tears Mrs. McClure stated, “Now we can mourn my sister properly”
As I logged onto Newsday’s site today, I read the breaking news in which the Suffolk County, NY, DA Tom Spota has dropped the murder indictment against Martin Tankleff. Now Martin Tankleff is truly free, but I noticed in watching this feed as Spota spoke he did not believe that others were involved in the murders of Arlene and Seymour Tankleff. That is his belief, but not mine as I write this column. None the less, he will ask Judge Robert Doyle to dismiss the indictment against Tankleff on January 18th. This is long overdue.
A few weeks ago and as reported by the Washington Times, New Jersey banned the use of the death penalty. Governor Jon Corzine remarked as he signed this bill into law, “This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder,"
While this new ban spares the life of "Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994" we as a society must remember the 210 prisoners exonerated through the Innocence Project and heaven forbid if Martin Tankleff received the death penalty. Besides according to the Washington Times this form of punishment has not been carried out in the state of New Jersey since 1963.
In a recent New York Times op-ed piece they wrote, "60 percent of all American executions this year took place in Texas. That gaping disparity provides further evidence that Texas’s governor, Legislature, courts and voters should reassess their addiction to executions." As we all know when President Bush was the governor of that state he was known as the Texacutioner. Bush has often said that he is pro-life when it comes to his stance on abortion, yet I challenge him and others who believe in using the death penalty they are not pro-life, but selective pro-lifers. You cannot look to save one life one minute and in the next look to take the life of another.