From the ABA Journal magazine
FREED AND PAYING BACK
Wrongly imprisoned, these men spent many years behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Plenty of convicted felons claim to be innocent; too many of them actually are. The criminal justice system stole from these men the carefree years of young adulthood. While many prisoners dream of going to law school, these three did it. Now they’re working to prevent others from suffering unjust imprisonments, and to eventually end the injustice of wrongful convictions.
It took an astounding array of forces to spring Marty Tankleff from a New York prison in December 2007: Armies of lawyers donated tens of thousands of hours—megafirms, small firms, plus Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project. A PR firm got his plight into the news. And there was a lot of luck.
Now he awaits his results on the New York bar exam. Tankleff, 43, until recently worked as a paralegal at the law firm that helped free him; and he is mapping out details for a nonprofit, possibly within the firm, in which law students will work at freeing the wrongly convicted when DNA evidence is not a factor. He also has been asked by a potential donor to explore the development of a program to give financial aid to struggling exonerees.
Arrested at age 17, Tankleff got an education in legal research and analysis in prison law libraries during his 17 years behind bars. He was sentenced to 50 years to life for the murder of his parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, who were bludgeoned and had their throats slit late one night in 1988 in the wealthy family’s home in Belle Terre, New York, on Long Island.
Tankleff was released just days after a state appeals court ruled the trial court had been wrong to say newly discovered evidence pointing to the likely killer was not credible because some of the witnesses had criminal records.
He’s suing the police for using psychological manipulation to extract his false confession. Police flat-out lied to a weary, shocked kid in a classic interrogation trick that recently got the thumbs-down from New York’s highest court in another case. The state settled with Tankleff early last year for $3.4 million in his wrongful-conviction claim.