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Monday, February 7, 2011

Martin Is Now Serving 50 To Life

Police Lie Leads to False Confession
By TChris, Section Innocence Cases
Posted on Sun Apr 04, 2004 at 11:37:10 AM EST

by TChris

Telling a lie to a police officer investigating a crime will often result in a charge of obstructing justice. But if the officer lies to a suspect, that's just part of the job. And when an officer uses trickery and deceit to obtain a confession, he may be praised for a job well done.

Suffolk County homicide detective James McCready bragged about the way he tricked 17 year old Martin Tankleff into confessing to the murder of Tankleff's parents. McCready immediately focused on Martin's guilt, finding it suspicious that Martin slept undisturbed while his parents were attacked in a different part of the house. After hours of interrogation, McCready told Martin that his father had come out of a coma and had identified Martin as his assailant. McCready lied: Martin's father died without regaining consciousness. But the lie did its job:

Under duress, suggestive questioning and badgering, he says, he wondered aloud if he was deluded or had a dual personality and could have committed the killings and blocked the memory. Prodded, he said, he imagined how he might have done it.

Martin's description of the possible ways he committed the crime became the only significant evidence against him.

But Mr. Tankleff promptly disavowed the confession, refusing to sign it, and the physical evidence did not implicate him. Yet he was convicted in 1990, based on the statement extracted by Detective McCready and his testimony as the star prosecution witness at the trial.

Martin is serving a sentence of 50 to life after losing appeals in sharply divided courts. He insists he's innocent, and there is strong evidence that he's telling the truth.


The police ignored evidence that Martin's father had demanded repayment of a debt from a business partner, Jerard Steuerman, who was playing poker with him on the night of the murder. McCready didn't find it suspicious that Steuerman faked his death, changed his appearance and name, and fled to California after the murders. Instead, McCready tracked Steuerman down so he could testify for the prosecution in Martin's trial.

After the trial, witnesses came forward who make a convincing argument that Steuerman and an accomplice committed the murders. The accomplice admitted to a defense witness that he and Steuerman were involved in the murders. Now the defense has located a man who says he drove the accomplice and another man to and from the Tankleff house on the night of the murders, believing that they intended to commit a burglary.

Martin's case illustrates the need for rules that prohibit the police from lying to a suspect to induce a confession. (McCready's lies don't stop during interrogations; an inquiry concluded that McCready perjured himself in a different murder case.) When the police abandon objective investigation and do whatever it takes to prove that their theories of guilt are correct, innocent people get convicted. The police shouldn't need to -- and shouldn't be allowed to -- use deception as a tool to discover the truth.

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