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Prosecutors withheld murder evidence in John Bittrolff case, says attorney

Manorville carpenter John Bittrolff, center, stands with his

Manorville carpenter John Bittrolff, center, stands with his lawyer William Keahon at his 2014 arraignment in state Supreme Court in Riverhead in the killings of two women 20 years earlier. Credit: James Carbone

Less than two weeks before a Manorville carpenter goes on trial, charged with strangling and bludgeoning two women to death more than 20 years ago, his attorney said prosecutors have belatedly turned over evidence identifying 75 other suspects.

The list of other possible killers includes two Suffolk police officers and the then-husband of one of the victims, defense attorney William Keahon told state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro in Riverhead Wednesday.

Keahon represents John Bittrolff, 50, charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Rita Tangredi, 31, of East Patchogue, on Nov. 2, 1993, and Colleen McNamee, 20, of Holbrook, on Jan. 30, 1994.

The bodies of both women, who worked as prostitutes, were found in wooded areas posed identically — arms above their heads, legs spread and wood chips on their bodies. Prosecutors say DNA from Bittrolff’s semen was recovered from both bodies.

Keahon said he should have received the 1,000 pages of documents on other suspects long before he did in the past few weeks. A legal doctrine known as the Brady rule generally requires prosecutors to turn over any evidence favorable to defendants as soon as they have it. Keahon said police had most of this evidence for years before his client’s arrest.

“This case had been pending for two years” since Bittrolff’s arrest, Keahon said. “The Brady [rule] material should have been turned over immediately.”

Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said he recently found it himself.

“There’s no Brady issue,” Biancavilla said. “We gave it to them the day it was found.”

Biancavilla said it took time to go through thousands of documents in the case file.

“We’re talking about a case that’s 20 years old,” he said. “Many hands have been in this case.”

This is at least the third murder case in recent years affected by claims of Brady rule violations. Gabriel Hubbard’s murder conviction for shooting Jaquan Jones was overturned because of such violations. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter last year.

Also in 2015, a judge found that prosecutors violated the Brady rule in the case against Dante Taylor and instructed jurors that his rights were violated. He was nevertheless convicted of the first-degree murder of Sarah Goode.

Taylor’s attorney, John Lewis Jr. of Farmingdale, said he was astounded to hear allegations of evidence being withheld from the defense again.

“I would be standing on my head spinning like a top,” if it were his case, he said. “It shows they [Suffolk prosecutors] have no understanding of what the Brady rule is. All they care about is conviction, regardless of guilt or innocence. It’s a systemic problem in the Suffolk district attorney’s office.”

Biancavilla said Lewis “should refrain from commenting on cases he knows nothing about and issues he knows nothing about.”

But Keahon said the issues are important.

“Rita’s husband admitted to killing her,” Keahon said, referring to interview notes describing a confession. The notes say the husband described beating her to death and leaving the body in the woods in Bellport.

Tangredi’s body was found in a wooded area in East Patchogue, about a half mile from Bellport. Keahon demanded the name of the detective who conducted the interview.

McNamee’s body was found in Manorville.

Keahon said later that other than DNA, there is nothing linking his client to either victim “in any way.” He noted that DNA testing found semen from several men in both bodies and on their clothing. Without conceding that his client had sex with either woman, Keahon said sexual relations are not evidence of murder.

“At least 75 other suspects who were with either of the girls threatened them, did drugs with the girls or beat them,” Keahon said. One of them was a police officer whose car contained wood shavings, Keahon said. Biancavilla declined to comment on that allegation.

Keahon also demanded the names of the officers who were suspects.

Ambro will discuss the issue further with the lawyers next week.

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