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January 06, 2008



Retired State Trooper Fought for Tankleff

For years, former New York State Trooper Bob Olson tried to convince anyone who would listen to him that convicted murderer Martin Tankleff was innocent.
Mr. Olson’s position was vindicated last month when Mr. Tankleff was released from the prison where he had spent the last 17 years of his life, following a decision by the New York State Appellate Division to grant his motion for a new trial. Earlier this month, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said he intended to dismiss the indictments against Mr. Tankleff, who was convicted of murdering his parents in 1990, and not pursue a new trial.
“This is the biggest disgrace in Suffolk County history, and it should have never happened in the first place,” Mr. Olson, a longtime Westhampton resident who now lives in Riverhead, said on Friday. “Why it took so long to right this terrible wrong is unacceptable.”
Although he never took part in the investigation of the September 1988 murder of Mr. Tankleff’s parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff in their Belle Terre home, Mr. Olson said he heard stories about the investigation from attorneys handling the case. In the ensuing years, he said he heard several other rumors of inappropriate conduct by those who had prosecuted the case and other members of the Tankleff family.
But it was only after he got involved in the Integrity Party and was directed to Mr. Tankleff’s website, MartyTankleff. org, that Mr. Olson said he began working in earnest to convince others of Mr. Tankleff’s innocence.
He met the then 36-year-old convicted murderer in prison during the summer of 2006 and corresponded with him on almost a weekly basis, discussing the progress of the case. Mr. Olson, who retired as a State Trooper several years ago, has been closely following the case and advocating for Mr. Tankleff for the past four years.
“The way I saw this was, in a sense, a rescue mission,” said Mr. Olson, noting that he is also a retired pararescue jumper from the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, based at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton. “No cop likes to criticize other cops. It’s kind of an unwritten code. But this was just so egregious—I couldn’t stand idly by and do nothing,” he said.
“There were some other people like me, but [they] were reluctant to come forward because the DA’s office had basically relegated all of us who supported Marty to be perpetrators of a conspiracy theory,” Mr. Olson continued. “Who would believe these crazy stories?”
Despite the odds against being taken seriously, Mr. Olson said he knew that Mr. Tankleff had not committed the murders and he began writing e-mails and letters to everyone he could think of—including celebrities such as Bianca Jagger and Alec Baldwin—trying to convince them of Mr. Tankleff’s innocence. Mr. Olson also began posting his thoughts on message boards across the internet, and continues to be a frequent contributor to the message board on MartyTankleff.org.
Like many of Mr. Tankleff’s supporters and lawyers, Mr. Olson said he suspects that a former business partner of Seymour Tankleff, who owed him approximately $500,000, was behind the murders.
After contacting Mr. Tankleff’s public relations team in 2006, Mr. Olson arranged to meet with him in the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York and then began corresponding with him, discussing the case. This year, he also began attending the 36-year-old convicted murderer’s court dates as the Appellate Division decided whether or not to grant him a new trial. When Mr. Spota announced on January 2 that he would ask State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle to dismiss the indictments against Mr. Tankleff, Mr. Olson said he was relieved and happy for the man he had come to know and whose case he had followed.
“I lived and breathed this case for the last four years,” he said. “It just made no sense to me that he would kill his parents. There was nothing he had ever done that would lead someone to believe he could commit murder. It just didn’t make any sense.”


Special Tankleff case prosecutor could be named early

Gov. Eliot Spitzer could appoint a special prosecutor as early as this weekend to investigate the 1988 deaths of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, a source familiar with the selection process said Friday.

The timing of the appointment could put the couple's son, Martin, at risk of being prosecuted again, less than a month after his 1990 conviction on murder charges was vacated by an appeals court. Martin Tankleff, 36, was released last month after spending more than 17 years in prison.

Tankleff's defense team had expected the special prosecutor to be named after a formal request is made next Friday by Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, the same day Spota said he plans to dismiss the murder indictment against Tankleff. Once the charges are dismissed, Tankleff could not be retried because of double jeopardy protections.

But a special prosecutor named before next Friday would take over the case from Spota and could choose to keep open the option of prosecuting Tankleff, who confessed to the brutal killings in Belle Terre as a teenager but immediately recanted and has maintained his innocence. The Appellate Division found that new evidence not presented to the jury in 1990 probably would have led to an acquittal.

Tankleff's attorneys, who had happily stopped preparing for a prosecution of their client after Spota said on Jan. 2 that he was dropping charges, said an early appointment changes their plans.

"If this report is true, it looks like we'll start preparing again," said attorney Bruce Barket of Garden City. "We are a little disturbed that this is being done behind the scenes without any consultation with Marty's defense team."

However, Shari Mistretta, Tankleff's half sister who has denounced Spota's decision to give up the case and called for the early appointment, said she hoped to see her sibling retried on murder charges.

"This is the way it should have been done," Mistretta said. "You have to exhaust all of your options before you throw in the towel."

A spokesman for the governor's office declined to comment.

Barry Pollack, a Washington-based attorney for Tankleff, said the target of the special prosecutor's investigation would depend on instructions from the governor, who could rule out a prosecution of Tankleff. Pollack said the probe should focus on evidence implicating Seymour Tankleff's former business partner, Jerard Steuerman, and two career criminals who associates say have admitted in private to carrying out the slayings.

Neither Spota nor his spokesman could be reached Friday evening.

Spota has said a special prosecutor should be appointed "to resolve any residual doubts about the prosecution of any other individuals."


Cuomo named special prosecutor in Tankleff case

Gov. Eliot Spitzer has appointed Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo as special prosecutor to investigate the murders of Arlene and Seymour Tankleff.

In a statement released this morning, Spitzer said the appointment authorized Cuomo to "consider all of the evidence gathered so far and to conduct his own investigation."

At the conclusion of his investigation, Cuomo can "prosecute the person or persons found to be responsible for this crime."

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota on Jan. 2 had requested that Spitzer name a special prosecutor to re-examine the case.

"This tragic case requires further investigation, and I agree with District Attorney Spota that the most prudent course is to appoint a special prosecutor," said Spitzer in a news release today. "The issues that troubled the Appellate Division need to be freshly and thoroughly examined. The Attorney General's Office has the expertise and resources to investigate this case fully and fairly."

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said: "My office is ready to start moving forward with this investigation right away, including gathering the information already collected by law enforcement and Mr. Tankleff's attorneys. We will follow the evidence wherever it leads us."

Martin Tankleff, 36, the couple's son, was released on bail Dec. 27 following an Appellate Division ruling vacating his conviction in the killing of his parents on Sept. 7, 1988 in their Belle Terre home.

He had served 17 years in prison for the crime.

A jury convicted him in 1990. He was sentenced to 50 years to life. On Jan. 2, Spota announced that his office would not retry Martin Tankleff for the killings. Spota also announced that he was asking Spitzer to appoint a special prosecutor.

Tankleff maintained his innocence in prison and a team of attorneys and investigators turned up more than two dozen witnesses who implicated other possible suspects.

They included Jerard Steuerman, a business associate of Seymour Tankleff who owed him more than $500,000 and faked his own death, changed his name and fled to California after the killings; and two career criminals, Joseph Creedon and Peter Kent, who the witnesses said were paid by Steuerman to kill the Tankleffs. Seymour Tanlkeff was 62, and Arlene, 54.

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