Ex-inmate recalls Gandolfini’s support in case

William Holt
William Holt
The Lookout
James Gandolfini (AP)
James Gandolfini (AP)

James Gandolfini, who passed away on Tuesday, will long be remembered for his consummate acting chops. For wrongly convicted Marty Tankleff of Long Island, however, the "Sopranos" star left an entirely different kind of legacy.

Years after Tankleff was convicted as a teenager for killing his parents in 1988, Gandolfini became a quiet supporter of the Long Islander as he fought for two decades to overturn the double-murder charge, the New York Daily News reports.

“Jim was loyal—it wasn’t like he did it for the publicity,” said Tankleff, 41.

Gandolfini learned about the case through Jay Salpeter, a former New York Police Department detective, while researching a role for the 2006 movie "Lonely Hearts." Gandolfini met Tankleff soon afterward, driving several hours upstate to see him at Great Meadow Correctional Facility.

“He was a genuine, nice person you could sit down and eat dinner with,” said Tankleff. “He got involved with my situation when others were reluctant.”

At the upstate facility, Gandolfini spent two hours talking with Tankleff and showed up to support him in a Brooklyn courtroom two months later. While the actor declined to do media interviews, Lonnie Soury, the PR executive who led the campaign to free Tankleff, told the Daily News that his presence alone delivered a powerful, unspoken message.

“My feeling was we were going to have a friend for the life of Marty’s case,” recalled Salpeter

Tankleff’s sentence was overturned by an appeals court in December 2007. According to the Daily News, Tankleff is a now a paralegal working toward a law degree.