John Pierotti leaves the Nassau County Court in Mineola on Feb. 10....

John Pierotti leaves the Nassau County Court in Mineola on Feb. 10. Pierotti was originally found guilty of first-degree murder and weapon charges in 2000. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Nassau County jury on Friday found a former Freeport man guilty of murder for a second time at his retrial in the shooting deaths of two Baldwin carpenters outside a tavern in 1998.

Jurors found John Pierotti guilty in the slayings of Willis Frost, 41, and Gerard Kennedy Jr., 36 — killings for which he had previously been serving life in prison.

Pierotti, 65, was convicted of murder in 2000, but a federal judge found in 2018 that Pierotti had a severe hearing impairment that made his first trial unfair. The judge ordered his release unless prosecutors took steps to retry him.

The Nassau County Court jurors who heard the case this month didn't know another jury had found Pierotti guilty of first-degree murder and weapon charges in the Dec. 23, 1998, deaths of Frost and Kennedy outside what was then known as the Dragger Inn in Baldwin.

Pierotti was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon, and faces a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced on April 29, officials said.

“The defendant ruthlessly shot two men at point-blank range outside a Baldwin bar in 1998,” Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a news release. “The families of Gerard Kennedy and Willis Frost have shown tremendous resolve sitting through this retrial, nearly 20 years after John Pierotti was initially convicted of murdering their loved ones."

When Marion Kennedy Marchese, the first cousin of Gerard, heard the verdict, she reached to hold the hand of a friend next to her in the courtroom and then for a tissue to wipe away her tears.

Marchese, 58, of Copiague, said she was satisfied with the verdict, but the retrial brought back the emotional devastation she felt two decades ago.

"It was a horror," she said. "I had no idea I would have to do this again."

She said it was hard to look at Pierotti during the trial and keep her composure as she heard his litany of lies again.

"I knew everything he was saying was a lie," Marchese said. "I wanted to scream at him."

She said that at one point Pierotti turned around and stared at the Kennedy family, until a family friend as well as a court officer told him to turn around.

Several members of the Frost family were also on hand. Frost's niece, Judy Stevens, said the verdict brought a measure of solace.

"We're relieved it turned out the way it did — again," said Stevens, 47, of Wading River.

The jury had been deliberating since Wednesday. Bob Cohen, who was juror number 2, said the group spent much of their time deliberating over the murder charge in Frost's death. They had long discussions on whether Pierotti intended to kill Frost or just injure him, he said.

"For Kennedy, it was clear" that the intention was murder," said Cohen, 72, of Manhasset. "We worked very hard to make sure everyone in the room was comfortable" with the decision.

Pierotti had worn headphones throughout the trial to amplify the proceedings.

Pierotti said he shot Frost and Kennedy in self-defense after grabbing the gun, which was never found, from Frost following an argument outside the Milburn Avenue bar.

But the prosecution contended Pierotti brought the .22-caliber revolver to the scene and that the location of the victims' bodies — found far apart — show Frost and Kennedy couldn't have attacked Pierotti.

Frost and Kennedy had left the tavern to use drugs in a van before Pierotti attacked the unarmed men by firing into Frost's chest and Kennedy's eye, according to prosecutor Martin Meaney.

"You pulled the trigger. You did it," he said Tuesday in a raised voice as he turned to face Pierotti during his closing argument. "Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?" 

Pierotti's attorney, Dana Grossblatt, contended Frost got angry after Pierotti approached, for a second time, a van Frost used for his job to ask for a battery jump for his own van.

Grossblatt on Tuesday attacked the credibility of key prosecution witness Melissa Johnson, Pierotti’s former girlfriend. Johnson had told police months after the homicides that Pierotti, with whom she has three children, left their home with her late father’s revolver before the tavern shooting and said after his return that he had killed two people.

Marchese's daughter, Tina Marchese, 28, had come up from North Carolina to be with her through the trial. After the verdict, as the pair were leaving the courthouse, the daughter comforted her still emotional mother. 

"Mom, it's over," Tina Marchese said.

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