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Tankleff promotes Innocence Project that saved his life

By Samantha Abram, Special to the Chronicle

In 1988, authorities found Tankleff's parents attacked in their home and almost immediately accused him of the brutal attacks. He was in police custody and interrogated until he was forced into a false confession. In the 1980s no one believed that innocent people could go to jail; if the person was convicted they were guilty. Public perception was that a wrong conviction was impossible. In 1990, Tankleff was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison, two years after his arrest for double homicide.

"My life changed that day and it will never be the same," said Tankleff.

There was no forensic evidence linking him to the crime and several witnesses came forward to prove his innocence. Still authorities didn't listen and made him suffer.

"There was no evidence that matched what prosecutors said," said Bruce Lambert, a former writer for the New York Times, who took an interest in the case to help Tankleff. "They said he killed his parents using a barbell and a knife, but couldn't find any blood or tissue on either of them," he added.

Tankleff wasn't going to let his life go to waste, so he made a point to prove his innocence by studying at the law library in prison and connecting with his lawyers. During his time in prison he appealed his case every year, only to be turned down every time. 30 witnesses came forward with stories proving his innocence, but still nothing was done in his favor. Finally, in 2007 the Appellate division ruled in favor of Tankleff and he was released on Dec. 27, 2007.

"It amazes me that he fought so hard to prove his innocence after spending almost 18 years in jail," said Jessica Barros, a freshman at Hofstra University. "Most people would give up after the first year."

Soon after his release, Tankleff enrolled at Hofstra to finish his education. He became part of The Innocence Project, a national public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted persons. Through this organization, Tankleff has helped many innocent people prove their innocence and come to justice. He encourages students to become part of the organization and make a difference. On the organization's website, students can read about little things they can do in their community to help people in this situation.

"An average college student can help do fundraisers and volunteer their time to help contribute to wrongful conviction cases," said Tankleff.

For more information visit:

Martin Tankleff spoke about his wrongful conviction and the perseverance that made his freedom possible. The lecture was sponsored by Hofstra’s Criminology Department, added this year for Sociology majors. (Svenja van den Woldenberg)

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