After 17 years, he may be cleared of parents' slayings

A New York state appeals court has granted a new trial to a Long Island man imprisoned more than 17 years for the murder of his parents, saying new evidence suggests he might be innocent.

Martin Tankleff was in high school when he was convicted on the strength of a confession he gave to police in 1988, shortly after his mother and father were stabbed and bludgeoned in their Belle Terre home.

Now 35, and serving 50 years to life, he has been arguing ever since that he was tricked into falsely admitting guilt by unscrupulous police detectives.

The Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court said in a unanimous opinion that new evidence uncovered by private investigators suggested that the victims, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, might have been slain because of a business dispute.

Judge: Smoke at the track, you can smoke anywhere

As Churchill Downs goes, so goes Louisville, according to a Kentucky circuit judge who struck down a citywide smoking ban citing an exemption for the famed horse track.

The judge ruled that because an exemption in the smoking ban crafted for Churchill Downs was unconstitutional, the entire law was illegal.

The decision hinged on a previous court ruling, from November, that struck down the exemption allowing smoking in some parts of the historic racetrack.

The ruling means the city cannot cite smokers, restaurants or bars for allowing patrons to light up inside.

Nicaraguan judge frees U.S. citizen on murder appeal

American Eric Volz was freed by a Nicaraguan judge yesterday, despite an uproar in Managua after an appeals court overturned his conviction and 30-year-sentence in the slaying of his Nicaraguan girlfriend.

The 28-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., accompanied by his mother, was freed from a prison hospital where he was being treated for kidney stones, driven by police-escorted ambulance to sign his release papers, then rushed to the airport where mother and son boarded a flight to Atlanta.

"We are pleased that the Nicaraguan Appeals Court decision . . . has been implemented in accordance with Nicaraguan law," a State Department spokesman said.

Live television broadcasts showed a caravan of news media following Volz as he headed toward the airport.

Evidence isn't in on CSI kit,but better safe than sorry

Four days before Christmas, Planet Toys Inc. wants stores to remove the company's CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit from their shelves after some tests had revealed samples of asbestos included in the kits.

The New York toy manufacturer sent a "stop sale" notice yesterday, according to a statement on the company's Web site saying an investigation is under way into whether the kits pose a health threat to anyone using them.

Deaths elsewhere...

Arabella Spencer-Churchill, the unconventional granddaughter of Britain's wartime prime minister and a founder of the Glastonbury rock festival, who in the mid-1970s lived the hippie life in London as a squatter, has died at age 58.

Spencer-Churchill, who had pancreatic cancer, died at home in Glastonbury, southwestern England on Thursday.

On the same day, her son, Nicholas Jake Barton, was sentenced to three years in prison in Australia for his part in an ecstasy drug racket.

_ Ken Hendricks, a high-school dropout who became a billionaire roofing-company executive and one of the nation's richest people, died yesterday after falling through his garage roof. Hendricks, who was 66, and lived near Milwaukee, was the 91st richest man in the U.S. with a net worth of $3.5 billion in September, according to Forbes magazine.

_J. Russell Coffey, the oldest-known surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, has died in a nursing home near Toledo. The retired teacher, one of only three U.S. veterans from the "war to end all wars," was 109.

Coffey never saw combat because he was still in basic training when the war ended. *

- Associated Press