Trials on Long Island; Tiger attacks...

Behind The News
December 26, 2007 12:14:24 PM PST
The only justice in the halls of justice is in the halls. Lenny Bruce, the brilliant comic (and wasn't he so much more than that?), said it. It's an insightful and inciting turn of phrase.

And the hard truth is it's sometimes true.

Just ask Martin Tankleff, who has maintained for the past 19 years that he did not kill his parents. He has been in prison for 17 years after he was convicted of the murder. He confessed to the crime after he was lied to by the lead detective. He was told his dead mother had his hair in her hand, that a "humidity test" showed he had showered at the family's home to get the blood off him, and that his father, seconds before he died, said his son was the culprit.

None of that was true, but if you're a 17-year-old in the windowless room of a police precinct getting grilled for hours by a veteran detective, who knows what you'll believe, or say.

He never signed his confession, after realizing, he says, that it wasn't true. But that didn't matter to the jury on Long Island.

Martin's supporters have long said his father's business partner, who his the senior Tankleff hundreds of thousands of dollars back in 1988, was somehow responsible for the murder.

Turns out the detective who tricked Martin had done business with the business partner.

No conflict there, right?

Now, Tankleff's conviction has been thrown out. He is in his mid-30s, so many years wasted. He'll get a new trial, if the D.A. decides to go ahead. There are many who say he should not. In any event, he's headed back to Long Island from prison upstate, and he's expected to be granted bail tomorrow.

But the case does make Lenny Bruce look even smarter for his justice-in-the-halls comment.

Another case on Long Island is also top-of-mind. John White was convicted over the weekend of killing a teenager, who had been part of a group of angry young men storming White's house and looking for White's son to confront him and fight him. White is black; the group of teens was white.

White thought it was a lynch mob and said they were making racial slurs when they threatened his son. He had a gun. And he claimed it went off accidentally, shooting one boy in the face and killing him.

The case was racially charged. Two of the jurors put themselves in White's shoes and held out against conviction. But now they say they were pressured and changed their minds. Forty five minutes after the jury told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked Saturday night, the jury came back with a verdict of guilty.

What a complicated case. The boys were wrong to charge the house. Mr. White was wrong to confront the confronters with a gun. And he was certainly wrong to shoot - whether it was an accident or not. But was it murder? (The actual conviction was second degree manslaughter.)

And how is it that two jurors who were opposed to the verdict couldn't muster the strength of their convictions? And what happens now that they are having second thoughts?

We're watching both the Tankleff and the White cases tonight at 11, for any new developments.

Also at 11, we're following the bizarre tale of Tatiana, a 350-pound Siberian tiger, who somehow managed to get out of her enclosure - a grotto-type home with a 15-foot-wide moat and a wall that's 20-feet high -- and then go on the attack. She killed one zoo visitor and hurt two others.

Did she jump the moat? And if she did, then the way zoos around the world now enclose wild animals will have to be re-thought.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Marvell Scott (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join us, tonight at 11.