Rex A. Heuermann after his arrest in July on charges in...

Rex A. Heuermann after his arrest in July on charges in the deaths of three sex workers whose bodies were found near Gilgo Beach in 2010. Credit: Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office

John Ray, the Miller Place-based attorney who has represented the estate of Shannan Gilbert, has been a public face of the Gilgo Beach case for the last 13 years.

Rarely seen without his signature fedora and low-slung ponytail, the former high school history teacher-turned trial attorney has clung to his contention over the years that Gilbert, whose disappearance initiated a search that led Suffolk police to find the remains of 10 people along Ocean Parkway, was a murder victim even though Suffolk police have determined she died accidentally.

But with the July 13 arrest of Rex A. Heuermann, the Massapequa Park resident charged in the killings of three women whose remains were discovered in 2010 near Gilgo Beach, the case has broadened the number of lawyers involved beyond Ray, and many of them have a shared history — a common occurrence in Suffolk County's small and cliquish legal community.

Michael J. Brown, the lead defense attorney representing Heuermann, is a veteran lawyer whose connections in the Suffolk legal community run deep.

Unlike Ray, Brown has declined most interview requests, but he has vigorously defended his client publicly after Heumerann's court appearances, saying he is innocent and picking apart summaries of the evidence that prosecutors released in a bail letter after Heuermann's arrest.

Brown, who has been in private practice since 1995, started his legal career as an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk District Attorney's Office with Ray Tierney, now the elected district attorney. Tierney, a former federal prosecutor who is leading the team of prosecutors trying the case against Heuermann, will likely square off against Brown in a Riverhead courtroom if the case eventually goes to trial.

Also in the mix is Robert Macedonio, a longtime criminal defense attorney and matrimonial lawyer who shared a legal practice with Brown for a decade, and is now representing Heuermann's estranged wife, Asa Ellerup, in her divorce action. Heuermann apparently isn't contesting the divorce, according to court records.

Macedonio, who also started his career at the same time as Brown and Tierney in the district attorney's office, lost his law license after pleading guilty in 2008 to felony cocaine possession but was reinstated as a lawyer after his conviction was thrown out and he instead was convicted of a misdemeanor three years later. Macedonio said he parted ways with Brown during that period. The pair remain friends, Macedonio said.

"We’re still very close friends," Macedonio said. "We just have differences in business. Honestly, the real reason why we broke up, you guys wrote about it, I was going through my divorce, I had my alcohol and drug problem ... Michael was one of my biggest supporters getting sober."

Macedonio said he's been sober for 15 years and has spoken at drug court graduations.

Presiding over the criminal case against Heuermann is Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei, known for his sharp tongue and abrupt demeanor on the bench. Mazzei, a former Suffolk prosecutor and Brookhaven Town Councilman, is no stranger to high-profile cases. He recently presided over the trial of Angela Pollina, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the freezing death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva.

As a prosecutor in 1989, Mazzei lead the prosecution effort in the retrial of the John Pius murder case. Pius was the 13-year-old whose body was found behind a Smithtown elementary school in 1979 with stones crammed down his throat.

A key witness in the Pius case was ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, a felon convicted of beating a handcuffed prisoner inside a police precinct in 2012 and then conspiring to cover it up. Burke has gotten into more legal trouble recently, with his August arrest for sexual misconduct at a county park. His case is pending.

Meanwhile, Ray, who has a penchant for brightly colored suits and ties, reemerged in a big way Wednesday when he held a news conference outside his Miller Place office to announce that he had interviewed four witnesses that claimed to link Heuermann with Gilbert and one of the Gilgo Beach victims. Two of the witnesses made their claims in sworn affividavits.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison's appearance at the news conference, an unusual move for a top cop, drew the ire of Tierney, who issued a harshly worded statement criticizing Harrison and Ray — but not by name.

"The police commissioner’s having a press conference with a defense attorney who has a reputation for suing the police department?" said Suffolk Leg. Rob Trotta, a Republican who has been critical of Harrison. "I don’t think he’s making the rank-and-file police officers too happy."

Macedonio dismissed Ray’s news conference as a publicity stunt.

“This is John Ray trying to remain relevant in a case that several law enforcement officials have said his client has no link to,” Macedonio said. “It’s a desperate attempt to stay relevant in this case that has nothing to do with him. He’s spent the last 13 years of his life on a wild-goose chase.”

When presented with Macedonio's quotes, Ray let out a hearty chuckle.

"Well, it's half true," Ray said. "What's half true? I'm trying."

Vess Mitev, a Stony Brook-based defense attorney and Ray's former law partner — the relationship apparently ended acrimoniously, though neither side would discuss the details publicly — is representing Ellerup's two adult children.

Mitev, along with Macedonio, have stated their intention to file a precursor to a lawsuit against the Suffolk police over the destruction of property at the Heuermann home during a 12-day search following his arrest. The attorneys have said mattresses were slashed, the home's drain pipes were removed and even the family's underwear was seized by police.

"We just went our separate ways business-wise," said Mitev, when asked about leaving Ray's firm in 2020. "Business partnerships, like any relationship, sometimes work out and sometimes end. And this one had run its course."

Ray, for his part, called the parting "a terrible thing that happened" and added: "I don't really care about him at all. I don't really think about him. My tendency is when people hurt me, I just leave them alone."

But, he added: "You can't make this up. How could my former junior partner pop up representing these people out of all the people in the world?"

John Ray, the Miller Place-based attorney who has represented the estate of Shannan Gilbert, has been a public face of the Gilgo Beach case for the last 13 years.

Rarely seen without his signature fedora and low-slung ponytail, the former high school history teacher-turned trial attorney has clung to his contention over the years that Gilbert, whose disappearance initiated a search that led Suffolk police to find the remains of 10 people along Ocean Parkway, was a murder victim even though Suffolk police have determined she died accidentally.

Miller Place Attorney John Ray speaks during a news conference...

Miller Place Attorney John Ray speaks during a news conference outside the Alfonse M. D'Amato U.S. Federal Courthouse in Central Islip in August. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

But with the July 13 arrest of Rex A. Heuermann, the Massapequa Park resident charged in the killings of three women whose remains were discovered in 2010 near Gilgo Beach, the case has broadened the number of lawyers involved beyond Ray, and many of them have a shared history — a common occurrence in Suffolk County's small and cliquish legal community.

A shared history

Michael J. Brown, the lead defense attorney representing Heuermann, is a veteran lawyer whose connections in the Suffolk legal community run deep.

Unlike Ray, Brown has declined most interview requests, but he has vigorously defended his client publicly after Heumerann's court appearances, saying he is innocent and picking apart summaries of the evidence that prosecutors released in a bail letter after Heuermann's arrest.

Michael Brown, attorney for accused serial killer Rex A. Heuermann,...

Michael Brown, attorney for accused serial killer Rex A. Heuermann, speaks during a news conference outside Suffolk County Court in Riverhead in late September. Credit: James Carbone

Brown, who has been in private practice since 1995, started his legal career as an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk District Attorney's Office with Ray Tierney, now the elected district attorney. Tierney, a former federal prosecutor who is leading the team of prosecutors trying the case against Heuermann, will likely square off against Brown in a Riverhead courtroom if the case eventually goes to trial.

Also in the mix is Robert Macedonio, a longtime criminal defense attorney and matrimonial lawyer who shared a legal practice with Brown for a decade, and is now representing Heuermann's estranged wife, Asa Ellerup, in her divorce action. Heuermann apparently isn't contesting the divorce, according to court records.

Macedonio, who also started his career at the same time as Brown and Tierney in the district attorney's office, lost his law license after pleading guilty in 2008 to felony cocaine possession but was reinstated as a lawyer after his conviction was thrown out and he instead was convicted of a misdemeanor three years later. Macedonio said he parted ways with Brown during that period. The pair remain friends, Macedonio said.

Attorney Robert Macedonio talks to reporters in August.

Attorney Robert Macedonio talks to reporters in August. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

"We’re still very close friends," Macedonio said. "We just have differences in business. Honestly, the real reason why we broke up, you guys wrote about it, I was going through my divorce, I had my alcohol and drug problem ... Michael was one of my biggest supporters getting sober."

Macedonio said he's been sober for 15 years and has spoken at drug court graduations.

High profile cases

Presiding over the criminal case against Heuermann is Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei, known for his sharp tongue and abrupt demeanor on the bench. Mazzei, a former Suffolk prosecutor and Brookhaven Town Councilman, is no stranger to high-profile cases. He recently presided over the trial of Angela Pollina, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the freezing death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva.

Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei presides over a case at the...

Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei presides over a case at the Arthur M. Cromarty Criminal Court in Riverhead in 2021. Credit: Randee Daddona

As a prosecutor in 1989, Mazzei lead the prosecution effort in the retrial of the John Pius murder case. Pius was the 13-year-old whose body was found behind a Smithtown elementary school in 1979 with stones crammed down his throat.

A key witness in the Pius case was ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, a felon convicted of beating a handcuffed prisoner inside a police precinct in 2012 and then conspiring to cover it up. Burke has gotten into more legal trouble recently, with his August arrest for sexual misconduct at a county park. His case is pending.

Potential new witnesses

Meanwhile, Ray, who has a penchant for brightly colored suits and ties, reemerged in a big way Wednesday when he held a news conference outside his Miller Place office to announce that he had interviewed four witnesses that claimed to link Heuermann with Gilbert and one of the Gilgo Beach victims. Two of the witnesses made their claims in sworn affividavits.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney in early August.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney in early August. Credit: Randee Daddona

Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison's appearance at the news conference, an unusual move for a top cop, drew the ire of Tierney, who issued a harshly worded statement criticizing Harrison and Ray — but not by name.

"The police commissioner’s having a press conference with a defense attorney who has a reputation for suing the police department?" said Suffolk Leg. Rob Trotta, a Republican who has been critical of Harrison. "I don’t think he’s making the rank-and-file police officers too happy."

Macedonio dismissed Ray’s news conference as a publicity stunt.

“This is John Ray trying to remain relevant in a case that several law enforcement officials have said his client has no link to,” Macedonio said. “It’s a desperate attempt to stay relevant in this case that has nothing to do with him. He’s spent the last 13 years of his life on a wild-goose chase.”

When presented with Macedonio's quotes, Ray let out a hearty chuckle.

"Well, it's half true," Ray said. "What's half true? I'm trying."

Attorney Vess Mitev represents the children of the suspected Gilgo Beach...

Attorney Vess Mitev represents the children of the suspected Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex Heuermann. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Vess Mitev, a Stony Brook-based defense attorney and Ray's former law partner — the relationship apparently ended acrimoniously, though neither side would discuss the details publicly — is representing Ellerup's two adult children.

Going separate ways

Mitev, along with Macedonio, have stated their intention to file a precursor to a lawsuit against the Suffolk police over the destruction of property at the Heuermann home during a 12-day search following his arrest. The attorneys have said mattresses were slashed, the home's drain pipes were removed and even the family's underwear was seized by police.

"We just went our separate ways business-wise," said Mitev, when asked about leaving Ray's firm in 2020. "Business partnerships, like any relationship, sometimes work out and sometimes end. And this one had run its course."

Ray, for his part, called the parting "a terrible thing that happened" and added: "I don't really care about him at all. I don't really think about him. My tendency is when people hurt me, I just leave them alone."

But, he added: "You can't make this up. How could my former junior partner pop up representing these people out of all the people in the world?"

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

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A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

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