Accused Gilgo Beach killer Rex A. Heuermann appears before Judge...

Accused Gilgo Beach killer Rex A. Heuermann appears before Judge Timothy P. Mazzei in Suffolk County Court on August 1. Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk judge ruled Wednesday that Gilgo Beach serial killer suspect Rex A. Heuermann must submit to a cheek swab as prosecutors seek to bolster their case through stronger DNA evidence.

State Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei, the presiding judge in the case of the Massapequa Park architect accused of killing three women, ruled prosecutors have enough probable cause to obtain the sample from Heuermann. Defense attorneys had sought to prevent prosecutors from obtaining the cheek swab.

“The court finds that contrary to the defendant’s contentions, there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crimes charged and, therefore, a basis to compel the buccal swab,” Mazzei wrote, noting that courts have “held that a grand jury indictment alone is enough to provide requisite probable cause.”

Heuermann, 59, has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree murder charges in the killings of three women — Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy and Amber Lynn Costello — whose remains were found near Gilgo Beach 13 years ago.

Authorities have also said Heuermann is the “prime suspect” in the slaying of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, whose remains were found with the other three victims. All four of the women were sex workers, law enforcement officials said.

Prosecutors, in a motion filed Aug. 1, said they are looking to collect a cheek swab from Heuermann to test against a mitochondrial DNA profile developed from a pizza crust and “used napkin” he allegedly discarded in Manhattan, which prosecutors have said was matched to a hair sample found at the bottom of burlap used to “restrain and transport” the remains of Waterman.

“If the defendant’s DNA from a buccal swab sample matches the mitochondrial DNA profile developed from Megan Waterman’s remains, there is scientific evidence of the defendant’s contact not only with Ms. Waterman and where her remains were discovered, but also with the burlap utilized to restrain and transport her human remains,” Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Michelle Haddad wrote in last week’s motion. “Specifically, it is expected this information would provide further relevant evidence of the defendant’s identity as the perpetrator of these crimes.”

Haddad also noted that if the DNA did not match the “defense would be presented with a potential trial defense.”

In Wednesday’s ruling, Mazzei said he finds that a comparison of the cheek swab with the hair recovered from Waterman and the pizza crust and napkin DNA will “yield probative material evidence, whether it is inculpatory, or not.”

Mazzei did not set a deadline for the sample to be taken from Heuermann with his ruling, stating only that it must be performed “while he is in the presence of his attorney.” 

Danielle Coysh, one of Heuermann's court-appointed attorneys, had argued against prosecutors obtaining the DNA sample in a response to Haddad’s motion, saying prosecutors failed to meet the legal standard to compel her client to provide the swab.

“The assertions contained in the people’s moving papers might be construed as rising to the level of a reasonable suspicion, but that is a far cry from the standard of probable cause required to justify granting the order sought by the people,” wrote Coysh.

Coysh argued that the prosecution failed to establish that Heuermann had touched the pizza crust or napkin.

“The people essentially concede that they have no evidence establishing the defendant Rex A. Heuermann actually ever came into contact with the pizza crust or used napkin found in the discarded pizza box,” Coysh wrote, citing the prosecution’s assertion that Heuermann had used or touched those items.

Coysh has been assigned to represent Heuermann along with co-counsel Michael J. Brown, who previously said his client has expressed his innocence.

"He's a man who's never been arrested before," Brown said previously. "He's maintained his innocence from the inception of this case. So he's doing the best he can at this point in time. And looking forward to having his day in court."

Defense attorneys and Suffolk prosecutors did not respond to calls seeking comment on the judge's ruling. 

Gilgo Beach serial killings

More than a decade after the remains of 10 victims were found off Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach, Rex A. Heuermann has been charged with murder in three cases and is a prime suspect in a fourth.

Who is Rex Heuermann? The Massapequa Park architect lived in a rundown house and had strained interactions with neighbors. His second wife filed for divorce days after his arrest.

The victims: Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello were young women who were sex workers. Their bodies were discovered after another woman, Shannan Gilbert, made a frantic 911 call from the area that set off a police search.

The case: Investigators used DNA from pizza crust and stray hairs to tie the victims to Heuermann; burner cellphone data and a 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche also are key evidence in the investigation. 

The search: Police retrieved more than 200 guns from Heuermann's home and searched two Amityville storage facilities for evidence, including evidence connected to the victims.

Timeline: Key moments in the investigation, from the discovery of several sets of remains in 2010 to Heuermann’s arrest.

Full coverage of the Gilgo Beach serial killings

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