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Convicted Parents Killer Set To Be Freed

Martin Tankleff is "ecstatic" that he'll be a free man, probably Thursday, after spending nearly 20 years behind bars for the brutal 1988 murders of his wealthy parents, the lead investigator working on behalf of Tankleff says.

Jay Salpeter, a former New York City homicide detective hired by Tankleff's attorneys, uncovered most of the new evidence. He told The Early Show's Maggie Rodriguez Wednesday Tankleff has "been nothing but ecstatic, finding out he's finally going to be coming home. I just spoke to him last night, and he's just wonderful. As a matter of fact, he's having a lot of problems sleeping now. He wakes up in the middle of the night and can't stop thinking about getting his freedom. He looks out the window and he sees mountains and he finally says, 'I'm going to be out there.' "

Tankleff, now 35, has been in prison more than half his life. He learned Friday that an appeals court had overturned his 1990 conviction, saying new evidence suggested someone else might have killed Seymour and Arlene Tankleff in their waterfront home in the posh Long Island, N.Y., community of Belle Terre.

Tankleff was 17 when his parents were bludgeoned and stabbed to death. During hours of tough interrogation, a detective falsely told the teen his father had awakened from a coma and implicated him. Tankleff then gave a gory confession, according to police. But he immediately recanted it, saying he was forced to make it, and refused to sign the written statement police prepared.

After Tankleff's conviction, private detectives working on his behalf, including Salpeter, turned up witnesses who fingered a business partner of Seymour Tankleff's, and a hired thug, in the killings.

Some courts said the witnesses weren't credible, but the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court said a jury should have a chance to hear from them. The justices said it was "probable" that a new jury would render a different verdict, if given a chance to hear all evidence now available, including how the police obtained the confession.

Tankleff, who's to be released on bail, will get the chance now to clear his name after insisting all along that he's not guilty, 48 Hours correspondent Erin Moriarty reported on The Early Show Wednesday. Moriarty has followed the case for nearly five years.

Police immediately focused on Tankleff, she observes, but he told her during a 2006 jailhouse interview that, "There's no way I could have hurt my parents. I loved them."

So why did he supposedly confess during his questioning? "It's like having an 18-wheeler driving on your chest, and you believe the only way to get that weight to get off your chest is to tell the police whatever they want to hear," he explained to Moriarty.

But since that time, a slew of new witnesses have come forward, pointing the finger at others, Moriarty points out. One of them, Joe Guarascio, saw a Moriarty 48 Hours report about Tankleff and turned in his own father, telling reporters, "I just came to tell what was told to me by my dad, which is the truth."

He says his father confessed that he was one of the hired killers and that Tankleff is an innocent man, Moriarty points out.

"Basically," Guarascio said, "the only thing that he's (Tankleff) guilty of is waking up in the morning and finding his parents dead. That's the only think he's guilty of."

Some legal experts say a new trial for Tankleff is unlikely after all this time, Moriarty reports.

Salpeter filled Rodriguez in on some of the evidence he uncovered.

"The first piece," he said, "was that I located the driver of the car that brought the two other participants of the murder of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff. And through that driver, I was able to cultivate many new witnesses, including a priest, a nun -- one of the murderer's sons (Guarascio) actually testified. I also found the (prospective) participant of the crime that refused to go that night, and also a participant that refused -- you know, went on a missed hit, the first hit that they missed Seymour."

Salpeter asserted that it was "without a doubt" the business partner of Seymour Tankleff who was behind the double slayings.

"Mr. Tankleff's business partner owed him a large amount of money," Salpeter said, "in the high six figures, and Seymour and Arlene died because he couldn't pay that, and he paid the murderers to kill them."

Tankleff's family has strongly backed him and, "Everyone is thrilled" his conviction was overturned, Salpeter said. "Since day one, the family has been pro, supported Marty, trying to get Marty out through motions. And finally ... everyone is gonna get their wish, including Marty. He's coming home."

Salpeter recalled that he "was in the New York Police Department when this crime occurred, so, you know, my mind was set. And then, Marty contacted me ... in 2000 and I reviewed the case. And what was amazing -- this case was really never investigated. ... That confession, not one piece of evidence is consistent with Marty's confession. And it's really the confession of (written by) the detective. It's not Marty's confession."

When did Salpeter believe Tankleff was telling you the truth?

"I looked at the case," Salpeter replied, "and then I had him polygraphed. And he passed the polygraph. And from then on, as I worked the case, my belief in Marty got stronger and stronger, and I think, you know, we've been vindicated."

Salpeter says he agrees with the experts who say a new trial probably won't happen but, "Even if there is a trial, Marty has a terrific defense team and we are ready to go. We will more than accept a new trial and we're very confident that, after the trial, Marty will be acquitted."