There were major opinion pieces in the New York Times and Newsday today. Keep in mind both were written before news broke of the State's investigation into Suffolk County law enforcement's conduct in the Tankleff case.
In "Could Martin Tankleff be the Next Jeffrey Deskovic?" the Times's editorial compares Tankleff to Jeffrey Deskovic, who was recently exonerated of his conviction, which was based on a false confession and the subject of a critical investigative report on Westchester law enforcement.
The Times then addresses DA Thomas Spota's involvement in the case:
"Now that Mr. Tankleff has won another day in court, his case deserves a dispassionate, thorough and honest re-examination. Mr. Tankleff’s defenders insist that this is not possible from the Suffolk County district attorney, Thomas Spota. They are demanding that he hand the case to a special prosecutor. While Mr. Spota had no direct involvement in the Tankleff prosecution, which was tried by his predecessor, he and his office do have multiple connections to some members of the large cast of characters in this convoluted case. A detective who lied to Mr. Tankleff while taking his confession, for example, had been previously defended by Mr. Spota, then a private lawyer, in a corruption investigation, and later when the detective was accused of assault.
"The law can be swift and sure when making a case against a defendant and hustling him off to prison. When it is found to have made grave errors, it must be just as honest and forceful in correcting them. We are counting on Mr. Spota to pursue the fairest case the evidence now supports. Or to back away if — as so many on Mr. Tankleff’s side insist — the evidence just isn’t there."
In an op-ed in Newsday today, "Tankleff Case Needs Special Prosecutor," professor and former prosecutor Bennett Gershman writes that before anything else, a critical question must be addressed:
"Should the Tankleff case continue to be handled by Thomas Spota, the Suffolk County district attorney whose office has prosecuted the case from the beginning? Or should Gov. Eliot Spitzer, pursuant to state law, appoint an independent special prosecutor to evaluate the new evidence objectively and convene a special grand jury to determine whether Tankleff should be tried again or whether murder charges should be brought against others?"
Clearly, for Gershman, it's a rhetorical question:
"The ethical rules, particularly those relating to conflicts of interest, require that Spota be superseded by a special prosecutor. Spota's past associations when he was in private practice with key people connected to the case make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to act independently and objectively, even if he believes he can. His subsequent representation of the detective who had allegedly duped young Tankleff into confessing, and his law partner's representation of the man now frequently alleged to have been the ringleader of the Tankleff murders, make it hard for Spota to distance himself from his past and avoid the appearance of a conflict."
Gershman concludes, "A special prosecutor would not be burdened with these ethical pitfalls and would be able to conduct an independent and objective investigation into who killed the Tankleffs."
Now that the SIC's new investigation is public, one looks forward to what Newsday will have to say editorially, or not, and for the Times to weigh in again editorially down the road. The Times's decision to put the SIC probe on the front page was an important statement. (A blurb on A1 is the same as an A1 story, as final story placement is based on multiple considerations, including space, other news, etc.)
With Marty Tankleff's conviction vacated and the SIC investigation underway, the question people are asking now is: How can Suffolk County law enforcement retry Marty Tankleff while the State is investigating its conduct in Marty's original conviction? A retrial would be a farce set in a hall of mirrors.