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Evidence in John Bittrolff murder case turned over too late, defense says

John Bittrolff inside Riverhead Criminal Court Thursday morning

John Bittrolff inside Riverhead Criminal Court Thursday morning on July 31, 2014, where he was arraigned on an indictment charge in the killing of two women. Credit: James Carbone

The prosecutor in the case against a Manorville carpenter accused of killing two women 23 years ago last week turned over one victim’s diary, in which, the defense claims, she named at least one man later investigated for her killing.

It was the latest instance of the prosecution turning evidence over late in the case against John Bittrolff, 50. And it comes less than a week after the Suffolk district attorney’s office dismissed a murder charge in another case and forced that trial prosecutor to resign because of improperly withheld evidence.

Bittrolff is charged with second-degree murder in the killings of Rita Tangredi, 31, of East Patchogue on Nov. 2, 1993, and Colleen McNamee, 20, of Holbrook on Jan. 30, 1994.

Before trial testimony resumed Monday in Riverhead, defense attorney William Keahon of Hauppauge told state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro that he received a diary written by McNamee in 1993 and a forensic handwriting report written about it in 1994 just last week. Keahon said that was a blatant violation of the Brady rule, which generally requires prosecutors to turn over evidence favorable to the defense.

The diary names a man called “The Wig,” Keahon said.

“The Wig is Tony the Wig, a leader of the Pagans motorcycle gang” who was investigated in McNamee’s death, Keahon said. “He ran her in the Tender Trap [strip club in Elwood], when she topless danced. He took her money. He threatened her. The Pagans and Tony the Wig threatened to have her killed.”

Keahon said he should have had the diary and the report soon after his client was arrested in 2014.

“I agree,” Ambro said to Keahon and Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla. “Mr. Biancavilla, he should have had that report.”

Ambro asked Keahon whether he wanted a remedy for the issue, but Keahon said he wanted to go forward with the trial as long as he got any information to which he was entitled.

Biancavilla minimized the importance of McNamee’s writings, saying it was nothing more than notes from her time in drug rehab and he was not obligated to turn it over.

“There are no suspects’ names in here,” he said. “This material is not Brady material, and it’s not discoverable. I turned this material over to Mr. Keahon as a courtesy.”

He said Keahon’s interpretation of “The Wig” is laughable.

“I don’t know where Mr. Keahon creates these fantasies about what these names mean,” he said.

Biancavilla said forensic scientist Jeffrey Luber recently discovered the diary languishing in the basement of the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory in Hauppauge.

But during cross-examination by Keahon, Luber said Biancavilla showed him a package last week and they opened it together, revealing the long-forgotten diary.

“It was like a surprise?” Keahon asked.

“It was a surprise to me,” Luber replied.

Keahon asked why Luber’s forensic report wasn’t in his case file all this time. “You completed your work on this document 23 years ago, and I got it last week,” Keahon said.

“Yes,” Luber said.

Biancavilla suggested Keahon might have turned up the document if he’d asked to review the case with Luber. When Keahon asked Luber how many defense attorneys he’d met in his 33 years with the crime lab, he said just one.

“OK,” Keahon responded, laughing. “Have a nice night, guy.”

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