Saul Kassin, an expert on false confessions, says coerced confessions are a definite reality in the legal system. "In about 25 percent of the DNA exoneration cases that are out there, there were confessions in evidence as a contributing factor," he says. "And those DNA exoneration cases, those are the lucky few who had DNA in their cases and the DNA was saved and preserved to be tested."
Coerced confessions are more likely to take place when the suspect is young, Saul says, and Marty's naïve nature worked against him. "He'd never been in trouble before. He wasn't street smart. ... He was raised to trust the police," Saul says. "He was in a state of shock and when they brought him in. ... And when they brought him into the station, he wasn't even wearing shoes. He was half-dressed. He didn't have his glasses. He was in a state. That puts him in a state of vulnerability."
Police in Marty's case used his alleged lack of emotion against him, but Saul says there is no one way to react to trauma. "Psychologists who study reactions to trauma know that some people fly into a state of hysteria, but other people shut down, go numb and appear emotionless. That doesn't make them killers," Saul says. "The police are not psychologists in that regard, and to make an inference about somebody being a liar or a truth-teller or a killer or not killer on the basis of whether they're emotional, there's just no evidence for that."
Saul says police lied to Marty numerous times during his interrogation, which he says is legal in the United States. Such lies—including a nonexistent humidity test to "prove" that Marty took a shower after supposedly killing his parents—were used to break Marty down, Saul says. "You can imagine Marty at this point kind of like a boxer who's dazed and weak in the knees about to go down, they lower the boom and McCready goes out and stages a phone call [with Marty's father]," Saul says. "In doing that, he cites to Marty the person in his life he trusts the most. And so Marty breaks down and says, 'If my father says I did it, then I must have done it.'"
Marty still lives in Long Island, and his childhood home brings back a lot of memories. "Right down the road from where I grew up there was a beach, and my mother and I used to go walking. Every memory's special with my parents. They embraced me. They loved me. I loved them," he says. "Without a doubt, I lived a charmed life."
Since his release from prison, Marty has become something of a local celebrity in the tight-knit community. Well-wishers often send him their congratulations and say they are happy to see him out of prison. "Everywhere I've gone, it's kind of that same reception now. It just proves the fact that once all the facts have gotten out there, the people who knew me, the people who followed the case know the truth," he says.
Since his release, he's been staying with his cousin Ron and Ron's wife Carol. "We were very concerned that Marty would lose his soul, lose his innocence, lose his, as one of his lawyers calls it, boyish charm. And that didn't happen," Ron says. "He's come home with determination to go forward and to his life and prove himself."
"We always say that thank God we all stood together. We fought as a team, and we've won as a team," Marty says. "But we're far from over. And we won't stop."
After all he's been through, does Marty ever feel angry or bitter? "Every day there's a little bit of bitterness and anger, but I don't focus on it. If I spent too much energy focusing on my bitterness, my anger toward the hell that I've been through, I won't be successful."
Instead of focusing on the negative, Marty instead concentrates on a bright future for himself. "I say basically my world is my oyster," he says.
In addition to enjoying freedoms like driving, Marty says he regularly goes to the gym, sees friends and spends time at the beach. He's also working to make a difference in the world. While in prison, Marty earned his associate's degree and enrolled full time in college immediately after his release. As someone who's been through the prison system and knows what needs to be changed, Marty is now determined to become a lawyer to help make things right. "There's so many faults with it. There shouldn't be any more Marty Tankleffs," he says. "Society suffers when an innocent person goes away, and we can change the system."Ten years after Marty Tankleff's arrest, a California teen faces a similar situation.See how others have transformed their darkest moments into their wildest dreams.
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