HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A $10 million settlement has been announced for a Suffolk County man who spent nearly 20 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of killing his parents.
CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff covered the murders in 1988 and spoke exclusively with Marty Tankleff on Friday.
Tankleff, now a 46-year-old attorney, teaches at Georgetown University about a side of the justice system he says he knows all too well – injustice.
And for that, Suffolk County will now pay.
“This settlement says essentially the same thing that a jury verdict would have said, and that’s I am innocent,” he said.
It’s a $10 million settlement with the county that sent him to prison for more than 17 years.
“There is no amount of money that Suffolk County or the state of New York could ever give me that could ever fully compensate me for everything that I’ve lost in life,” said Tankleff.
The extraordinary story began in 1988 with a shocking murder of a couple in upscale Belle Terre – pinned on their teenage son, who admitted to petty gripes.
During the subsequent trial, Tankleff’s family members wore buttons, insisting his confession was coerced by police who jumped to the wrong conclusions. Nine days of deliberations, then he was found guilty and sentenced to 50 years to life.
The conviction was overturned, because the defense argued the confession didn’t match evidence, and someone else was overheard taking credit for a hit on the Tankleffs over money owed.
The settlement isn’t the end.
“It doesn’t bring back 17 years that he lost. It doesn’t bring back his parents, and the people who are responsible for killing his parents were never prosecuted,” defense attorney Bruce Barket said.
A prosecutor and detective who worked the case plan to argue against the settlement before it’s approved. They believe the jury got it right.
“Tankleff has argued for years that his confession was coerced, but he has never even attempted to explain the incriminating blood proof, which even his lawyers admitted to a federal appeals court ‘was self-evidently damning’ evidence of Tankleff’s guilt,” said Leonard Lato, a former prosecutor represented Suffolk County in Tankleff’s appeal.
But one juror Gusoff spoke with expressed deep regrets.
“I’m happy that he is being compensated for Suffolk County’s inept handling of this case,” he said.
How do taxpayers feel about footing the bill?
“It’s a lot of money, but I think he’s entitled to it,” one man said.
“Unfortunately, you really have to, because they really messed that case up,” said another.
“That’s a heft thing that we are all going to have to absorb into,” a woman added.
Tankleff said it won’t make up for lost time, but enables him to work on his mission.
“When you don’t investigate and you’re close minded … it destroys lives,” he said.
The case could be reopened, as there is no statute of limitation on murder.
The $10 million still must be approved by the full Suffolk County Legislature.