42-Year-Old To Get Honor From Touro Law Center, Help The Wrongly Convicted

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — He spent much of his life navigating the legal system — from behind bars.

But soon, a law degree will be awarded to Martin Tankleff.

The Long Island man who was once convicted of murdering his parents is about to graduate law school, CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Thursday.

The paralegal in a Garden City law firm knows his way around the criminal justice system. It’s not surprising because he spent 17 and half years on the wrong side of it — in prison.

“It’s like oh my God, is this a reality? Or did this really happen to me?” Tankleff said.

Tankleff’s legal odyssey will take another dramatic turn this weekend when at age 42 he’ll become Martin Tankleff, ESQ., earning a law degree from Touro Law Center.

“It’s incredibly unique and what Marty did from the beginning was make his experiences and knowledge available to all of us,” Touro Professor Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus said.

His own legal case is now required reading in many law schools.

A teenager convicted of murdering his parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, in their Belle Terre waterfront home in Suffolk County, Martin Tankleff was branded by police a spoiled son who confessed but quickly recanted.

He was sentenced to 50 years to life, but later new witnesses emerged, and another man claimed to kill Tankleff’s parents. Tankleff’s conviction was overturned, his freedom won, six years ago. He’s since been on a mission.

“Once I was in prison wrongfully, my dream was to get out, go to law school, get admitted to the bar and help those who have been wrongfully convicted,” Tankleff said.

Tankleff is married now, and has a step-daughter. His wife, Laurie, who is fighting a debilitating nerve disease, said husband and wife give each other strength.

“I tell him we’re not going to sit on the couch and do the poor me thing. Let’s go,” Laurie Tankleff said.

“I’m angry. I’m bitter, but what is the anger and (bitterness) going to do to me? To me, it shouldn’t drive me. What really should drive me is to try to live as best as I can,” Tankleff.

He’ll soon head a new clinic to help free wrongly convicted prisoners.

The attorney offering him the position also offered advice.

“Your life is going to be defined by what you do in the future. The past you can’t change. It’s over,” Bruce Barket said.

The young man charged with murder in high school will be awarded his juris doctorate degree on Sunday.

Tankleff won more than $3 million in a lawsuit against the State of New York and is suing Suffolk County as well for wrongful imprisonment. No one else has ever been charged in the killing of his parents.

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