innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Innocence: Life After Death

Virgina Governor Mark Warner is allowing DNA testing in the case of Roger Keith Coleman, a man who professed his innocence of a rape/murder right until the day of his execution.

If the testing excludes Coleman, he will be the first person executed in the United States later proven innocent by genetic testing.

Governor Warner has recently ordered the review of thousands of cases, which has resulted in the exoneration of five men.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Unfortunate Son: The Case of Martin Tankleff

The confession that cost 17-year-old Martin Tankleff his freedom was written by somebody else.

Even though the Long Island high school student refused to sign the paper that implicated him in the murder of his parents, he was convicted on the strength of this confession.

After waking up to find his mother dead and his father clinging to life, Tankleff called 911 and attempted to save his dad with first aid.

The boy was questioned about the murders, and Suffolk County Detective K. James McCready admitted he lied to Tankleff about incriminating evidence, going so far as to say that his father had woken up from his coma and accused his son of the brutal attacks.

McCready used another perfectly legal technique known to inspire false confessions—he engaged in speculation with the suspect about how he could have committed the crime, suggesting that Tankleff might have blacked out during the killings, causing him to forget.

The underage kid who had just become a double orphan “began to doubt his sanity.” He discussed how the murders might have happened, but refused to call this a confession, and refused to sign the document McCready wrote.

Children are especially prone to giving false confessions. In fact, 42% of cases in which children were later exonerated, they had given false confessions. For adults, it was only 13%.

From the beginning, Martin Tankleff and the majority of his immediate family believed that their father’s business partner had committed the crime.

The business partner, Jerard Steuerman was in the bagel business with Martin’s dad, Seymour. Steuerman owed him $500,000 and was trying to cut Seymour Tankleff out of co-ownership of new bagel franchises. Steuerman had even threatened to kill Seymour.

A week after Arlene Tankleff was murdered and her husband lay dying in a coma, Steuerman fled the state, altered his appearance and started using an alias.

Police never interviewed Martin’s family and never pursued Mr. Steuerman as a suspect.

Martin Tankleff is now 34, and hopeful that he will be exonerated.

“I never saw a similar case where a defendant was so obviously innocent." said retired State Supreme Court Justice Herbert A. Posner.

For the whole story from Bruce Lambert at the New York Times, click here.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Statute of Limitations On Rape in NY

In an article that originally ran in the New York Times, the debate about DNA and its ability to resurrect cases extends to instances of rape.

In New York City, the statute of limitations runs out after 10 years, but with current DNA testing conclusive proof for crimes committed decades earlier can now be found.

"Under New York State law, rape is a B felony on par with burglary and grand larceny." Lawmakers want to make it an "A" felony, like murder, which has no statute of limitations.

The law does not reflect the lasting scars left by rape, or the lifelong issues victims can face.

One survivor, Stefanie Aubrey, may never get a chance to face her rapist in a court of law because the statute of limitations has run out. She says the crime has stayed with her.

"It keeps me always on my guard. You just have to leave it to God and go on living. You just have to keep yoru eyes open and your doors locked."