Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota announced today that he will not seek to retry Marty Tankleff for the 1988 murder of his parents.
“It was no longer possible to reasonably infer that the case against Marty Tankleff would be successful,” Spota said.
This statement, in light of the position taken by the DAs office following the extensive post-conviction evidentiary hearings, is nothing short of shocking. ADA Leonard Lato ripped the defense claims as lies at the time. If the defense was so strong, why did the DA fight so vehemently to keep Marty in prison?
“Tankleff’s supporters see ‘Marty’ as a young man who ‘had it all,’ and they cannot accept that he is guilty of matricide and patricide,” Lato wrote. “The truth is that, on Sept. 7, 1988, Martin H. Tankleff murdered his parents.”
So how did these “lies” suddenly change? Not merely change, but reduce the prosecution’s evidence to the point that it could no longer be inferred that it would be successful? If the DA believed, given all the evidence, that Marty was the murderer as it espoused over and over, then why drop the case and let a murderer walk rather than take the chance and potentially win?
While the outcome is proper here, Spota’s statement is disingenuous, as has been the prosecution’s attack on Marty throughout. It is obvious to me that the subtext to Spota’s statement is that he can’t muster the witnesses and the ones he have now suffer from their lies and deceptions in the past. And that includes Spota, who while in private practice represented the primary detective who deceived Marty into giving the confession.
So rather than wiggle and squirm his way out of a trial, Spota could have said that he no longer believes that the evidence against Marty Tankleff was sufficient to prove guilt. I’m sure Marty is happy with an end to his 17 year nightmare no matter what Spota has to say about it. But it would have been nice if just once the District Attorney ate some crow after all that he’s done to keep Marty Tankleff in prison.
And Marty, welcome home. And Happy New Year.
Update: As was pointed out to me by a friend/prosecutor, Marty was convicted of intentional murder of his father, but acquitted of that charge with regard to his mother. Instead, he was convicted under a depraved indifference murder theory of his mother. While this is not necessarily incompatible with changes in New York law, which no longer routinely permits the mirror charges of intention and depraved, it would not have precluded a theory where Marty had intended to kill the father and the mother just got in the way. But we all agree that Spota’s dismissal of this mess was bizarrely inconsistent with his office’s handling up to now and, quite simply, utterly graceless. And the final question is, is there any money left from the parents’ inheritance? No matter, as I’m sure there will be a civil suit shortly to make up for lost years.