Court papers show how Suffolk investigators focused on Manorville carpenter for killings

John Bittrolff, 48, of Manorville, is led out

John Bittrolff, 48, of Manorville, is led out of the Fifth Precinct for arraignment on Tuesday morning, July 22, 2014. Bittrolff is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in connection with the killings of Rita Tangredi, 31, and Colleen McNamee, 20, more than 20 years ago, police said. Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Suffolk investigators took 11 months to piece together DNA evidence linking two women killed 20 years ago to a Manorville carpenter by digging through his family's garbage and collecting cigarette butts flung from car windows by his wife and brother.

Prosecutors described the investigation in court papers Wednesday to get a court-ordered DNA sample from John Bittrolff, the man charged with strangling and bludgeoning Rita Tangredi, 31, of East Patchogue in November 1993 and Colleen McNamee, 20, of Holbrook in January 1994.

Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson granted the DNA request, even though Bittrolff's attorney said it wasn't necessary and would provide no proof Bittrolff killed the two women.

DNA surreptitiously collected from Bittrolff matches DNA in semen retrieved from the women's bodies, authorities said, but defense attorney Harry Tilis of Bohemia said that also doesn't mean his client killed them.

"Having sex does not mean killing," Tilis and co-counsel Richard Young Sr. wrote in opposition papers to the request for a DNA sample.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said there's more than DNA that ties Bittrolff to the crimes.

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"Given this guy's comments when he was interviewed by the police, I think there's substantial evidence," Biancavilla said Wednesday.

He declined to say what Bittrolff said. Tilis said he's unaware that his client said anything to police. Detectives were told soon after Bittrolff's arrest that he had an attorney and could not be questioned, Tilis said.

An affidavit filed by Biancavilla in support of his request and a Suffolk County Crime Laboratory report show how detectives and forensic scientists eventually focused on Bittrolff.

The case came alive on Aug. 16, when Brian Gestring, director of the state's Office of Forensic Services, notified the Suffolk Crime Laboratory that the DNA from the bodies could belong to a relative of Timothy Bittrolff, 45, one of John Bittrolff's two younger brothers. The lab determined that relative would be a brother of Timothy Bittrolff, who was required to submit his DNA last year after he was convicted of criminal contempt and violating protective orders.

According to the affidavit, in January detectives began following both brothers -- John and Kevin, 41 -- in an attempt to get their DNA. On Jan. 31, they took bags of garbage put at the curb in front of John Bittrolff's house on Silas Carter Road in Manorville.

The affidavit also states that on Feb. 11, detectives saw Kevin Bittrolff flick a cigarette butt out the window of his silver Mazda as he left his Yaphank home. And on Feb. 19, they collected a butt that John Bittrolff's wife, Patricia Asero, threw out the window of her white GMC Yukon as she drove to work.

Then the DNA analysts went to work, according to the affidavit. They first ruled out Kevin Bittrolff, focusing further on the paper bags of garbage from in front of John Bittrolff's house.

"We're focusing on John the minute we exclude Kevin," Biancavilla said.

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After examining the plastic cups, drink bottles, toothpicks, straws, crawfish heads, cotton swabs, bandages and other garbage, analysts came up with DNA profiles of one female -- Asero -- and several males. One was Timothy Bittrolff. Two others were shown by DNA testing to be the sons of Asero and John Bittrolff. And one DNA profile, from a plastic cup in the garbage, matched the DNA from the dead women's bodies.

Biancavilla said police got a another DNA sample from a cup of water Bittrolff drank after his arrest on Monday. It matched the DNA from Bittrolff's garbage that matched the sample from the victims, Biancavilla said.

Tilis said there was no reason, after all that, for Biancavilla to seek a new DNA sample.

"It's a puzzle why they're here looking for DNA evidence, when [Tuesday] at the press conference they said they've got it all locked up," he said.

Biancavilla said the evidence is strong, but prosecutors are entitled to get a "judicially approved" DNA sample from Bittrolff to present to a grand jury this week.

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