Exonerated man passes New York State Bar

U.S. & World

(CNN) – A New York man spent 17 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Now, he’s launching a new career to help others avoid the same fate.

The road to becoming an attorney is not necessarily an easy one, but for Marty Tankleff it’s been especially difficult.

On Wednesday, Tankleff says he was finally able to hold his head high at a Brooklyn appellate courthouse.

The last time he was here in 2007 when his case was argued.

“Two of the judges that were on the panel that freed me were on this panel. For me it was historic. I think it was probably historic for them too,” he said.

Tankleff was just 17 years old when he was charged with the 1988 murder of his parents in their Long Island home.

He was sentenced to 50 years and served nearly 18 before being freed in 2007 at age 36, after an appeals court found key evidence in his trial was overlooked.

“Even today there are still people that question my innocence. The individuals responsible for my parents’ murder are still free.”

Tankleff plans to advocate for those who have been wrongfully convicted as a criminal defense lawyer while at the same time, delving deeper into his parents’ case.

It’s a career decision he made while serving his sentence.

“I was in prison, I was in prison fighting for my life. And I knew that I was going to get out, I knew I wasn’t going to die in prison,” he said.

Tankleff has been hired as an attorney by the firm which hired him as a paralegal a few years ago.

Within minutes of his admittance today, Tankleff picked up his first client.

And though he’s come so far, he and his wife Laurie only wish his parents could have been here to see it.

“Laurie and I would go to my parents’ grave when I was studying for the bar exam and struggling,” he said.

Now with his certificate of good standing in hand and a gifted “Exoneree” ring on his finger, Tankleff becomes one of just a few exonerees to practice law in New York state.

Tankleff is no stranger to the field of law.

He’s taught at Georgetown University and Touro Law School.

He has also given lectures to criminal justice institutions throughout New York.

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