One main purpose of the criminal justice system is to protect the innocent, however, with such a flawed system, this isn’t always the case. On 6 September, 1988, 17-year-old Martin Tankleff awoke to discover the bloody bodies of his parents, Arlene and Seymour. Arlene was laying in the bedroom, almost decapitated. Seymour was discovered in his office with a number of stab wounds; miraculously, he was clinging to life. Tankleff soon became the prime suspect after authorities claimed ht didn’t look distraught enough, however, Tankleff was still in shock. He was taken in for questioning without an adult present. Disturbingly, authorities told Tankleff that his father had awoke while in hospital and named him as the killer. In fact, Seymour had died without ever regaining consciousness. Brought up to believe that the police were good, honest, people, Tankleff began to question his own memory and question if he could have killed them and then blacked out. “I kept saying, ‘It wasn’t me,’ and they kept saying, 'We don’t care. Just tell us what we want to hear. We want to know it’s you,’” he says. “You get to a point where you start doubting yourself … you just want to escape that environment.”
Under intense interrogation, Tankleff verbally confessed that he had killed his parents with a barbell and a knife that was discovered in the kitchen. However, he never signed a confession document. After his interrogation, he called family members and told them he had been forced to confess. An investigation revealed that the knife that authorities surmised to be the murder weapon had been used to cut a watermelon - what was believed to be blood, turned out to be juice from a watermelon. There was also no blood or DNA discovered on the barbell. Authorities tried to argue that Tanklett was just good at cleaning up. No physical evidence found in the crime scene pointed to Tankleff being the killer but he was found guilty and sentenced to 50 years in prison regardless.
Skip forward to 2004, Tankleff’s family had hired private investigator, Jay Salpeter, who uncovered a parade of witnesses to corroborate Tankleff’s innocence. Tankleff was granted an evidentiary hearing where a number of witnesses penned Jerry Steueman as the killer. Steueman, who was once Seymour’s business partner, had owed Seymour an abundance of money. Coincidentally, Steueman had been at the card game hosted by Seymour the night of the brutal murders. It was also uncovered that following the murders, Steueman had changed his appearance and even faked his own death and left town. In 2007, all charged against Tankleff were dropped and he was released from prison. In 2014, he was awarded $3.4 million for his wrongful conviction and is currently in the process of setting up a business to help exonerate wrongly convicted inmates. Whoever killed Arlene and Seymour have seemingly escaped justice - at least for now.
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