Marty Tankleff's fight for the truth
Salpeter's addiction would eventually lead to startling new clues that would turn the case around.
From the moment Marty was arrested, his cousin and guardian, Ron Falbee never believed Marty murdered his parents. And Ron was not the only family member in Marty's corner: ever since the 1988 murders, a large number of relatives have been fighting to free Marty.
The relatives say they were never questioned by police, but lead detective James McCready claims they're lying.
"Did you ask to speak to them and they said no?" Moriarty asks.
"No," McCready says. "I never asked directly to speak to them. I didn't have to. What were they going to add to my case?"
But they say they had plenty to add. For one thing, they knew Marty. And while police say Marty killed his parents to get money, his family disagrees. "He wasn't supposed to get any money till he was 25 years old," one of his relatives points out.
McCready says he wasn't aware of that.
"Jim, isn't it important to talk to everybody before you settle on someone when you know their entire life …could be ruined by this?" Moriarty asks McCready.
"No, no. no. Under the circumstances in this case, everything we needed to know we pretty much knew in the first day," the detective argues.
With his suspect behind bars, McCready thought he had the whole case all wrapped up in a day. But a week later, with Marty's father Seymour lingering in a coma, the case took an unexpected turn. Seymour's business partner, the same man Marty had told the police to investigate, suddenly disappeared.
Marty thought the business partner would then become a main suspect, but, as a police report shows, McCready still refused to consider Steuerman a suspect.
"I'm reading from a missing persons report and it says, 'Homicide has no reason to believe that Steuerman's absence is connected to the murder...' Why not?" Moriarty asks.
"Because he had nothing to do with that murder," McCready says.
Asked if the disappearance didn't make his case harder, McCready says, "Not that it made it harder. It just added more questions."
Two weeks later, the detectives found Steuerman in Long Beach, Calif., where he was living under an alias. Steuerman returned home, claiming his personal and financial problems caused him to flee. "I had too many problems and its just 20 years of building up, that's all" he explained. "So I staged my death."
Asked if it is possible Steuerman had hired someone, McCready says, "Nope, he couldn't. That man couldn't hurt a fly."
One month after the Tankleffs were attacked, Seymour died, without ever regaining consciousness. Marty was then charged with two murders, and a year and a half later, went on trial.
"I think every emotion ran through me, scared, fearful, but I was also hopeful," Marty remembers. "Because I knew I was innocent. And I always believed that innocent men don't get found guilty."
By far, the most damaging evidence against Marty was his confession, but there was little physical evidence to back it up. None of Marty's hair, nor blood, was found on his parents. His mother Arlene had clearly fought her attacker, yet Marty had no cuts or bruises - only some swelling in his eyes from a nose job he got for his 17th birthday.
The jurors also heard from Steuerman, who denied having anything to do with the crime. "I would never do anything like that," he said.
He admitted he owed Seymour hundreds of thousands of dollars. What's more, Seymour was entitled to part of all of Steuerman's future ventures.
Under intense questioning, Steuerman snapped. "Marty Tankleff sitting over there is accused of this and I am not!" he said on the stand. "The only mistake I made was I was a poor man living like a millionaire!" he added.
By contrast, Marty was composed on the stand - perhaps too composed - as he tried to explain why he would confess to something he didn't do. "They were saying my father said I did this. My father never lied to me," Marty said.
After a week's deliberation, the jury reached its verdict: guilty. Marty was sentenced to 50 years to life.
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