Michael Brown, Heuermann's defense attorney, said he won't be rushed to go to trial. Heuermann’s next court appearance is June. NewsdayTV's Drew Scott reports. Credit: Photo Credit: James Carbone, Anthony Florio; Newsday Staff

The attorneys for alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex A. Heuermann are seeking FBI files relating to former Suffolk County Chief of Police James Burke, whose own attorney said was previously cleared as a suspect in the case he once oversaw after meeting with Gilgo investigators. 

Michael J. Brown, of Central Islip, the lead attorney for the former Manhattan architect, said he has not yet seen any discovery related to Burke as he prepares for Heuermann's trial, but is requesting that “FBI documents and notes” regarding an investigation into the disgraced former chief of department be turned over.

“Our information and belief is the Suffolk County Police Department — especially with Chief Burke in charge — and the FBI were butting heads,” Brown told reporters following an appearance by Heuermann in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead on Wednesday. “To some extent, I think, Chief Burke was suppressing the investigation and wouldn't allow the FBI to participate in it with their expertise. What we are looking for, in particular, are the FBI documents and notes in regards to what they were investigating in regards to Chief Burke.”

Brown later clarified that those files might shed light on Burke's alleged lack of cooperation with the Gilgo Beach investigation and the federal government's involvement in it.

“It seems contrary to common sense that Burke did not let the FBI in to help with this investigation back then, with their expertise,” Brown said. “That's why we're really looking forward to seeing those records from the FBI.”

Burke's attorney, James O'Rourke, of Smithtown, said Wednesday his client was investigated heavily by federal authorities when they prosecuted him for beating a handcuffed suspect and covering it up in an unrelated case more than a decade ago. But the FBI found no evidence that supported any theory that he was involved in the Gilgo Beach killings, O'Rourke said, adding that Burke also sat down with Suffolk homicide detectives following his federal conviction and was officially cleared as a Gilgo suspect.

“They wanted information from him, like where he was on such and such days when they believe the bodies were dumped and all this kind of stuff,” O'Rourke said. “In fact, he provided all of that. He sat down with one of the homicide investigators, detectives, and answered any and all questions. They found that there was really nothing there.”

O'Rourke said his client is “a convenient target” for the Heuermann defense team, but no information obtained by the FBI connects him to the Gilgo Beach slayings.

“They did everything but go to the cleaners where he has his underwear done,” O'Rourke said of the FBI's look into Burke. “I mean everything, and rightfully so ... if, God forbid, they find him on “X” and it turns out he was a mass murderer. James Burke may be a lot of things, but not a murderer, or a mass murderer, by any stretch. There's no evidence whatsoever to establish that.”

Through a spokesperson, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney declined to comment specifically on any allegations regarding Burke, who is currently being prosecuted by his office on a public lewdness charge stemming from an undercover county parks police investigation regarding prostitution in Farmingville in August. FBI Long Island spokesperson Daniel Crifo also declined to comment on the Burke and Heuermann investigations.

When questioned more generally regarding Brown's discovery request, Tierney said his office cannot turn over FBI files it doesn't have, since he does not have jurisdiction over the federal agency.

“I don't speak for the FBI. I'll let the FBI speak for itself,” said Tierney, who is a former federal prosecutor himself. “Obviously all the documentation that I have, I will turn over.”

The discovery concerns come as the defense focuses its attention on other potential suspects in the case. On April 12, Brown filed a discovery demand seeking information on a former police officer with the initials W.H. who investigators once considered a “top suspect” in the case. The letter, obtained by Newsday, references claims that former Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini had ordered the arrest of the officer earlier in the Gilgo Beach investigation, as detailed in an Aug. 3, 2023, article in The Washington Post that Brown presented to the court, along with his letter.

Brown said he received files pertaining to that suspect Wednesday, which revealed the former officer's name to the defense for the first time.

“We're very anxious to look at that documentation,” Brown said.

The initials W.H. were found on a belt buckle wrapped around the remains of one of the victims, investigators previously said.

The defense's discovery demand also includes a request for all notes regarding the Gilgo Beach investigation from former Suffolk Police Det. Patrick Portela, who was allegedly removed from the case after refusing to comply with orders by Sini to arrest W.H. in 2021, according to Brown's letter.

Sini also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Portela, who has since retired from the police department, could not be reached.

Heuermann, 60, of Massapequa Park, dressed in a dark, wrinkled suit and mostly stared straight ahead during the appearance. State Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei set Heuermann's next appearance for June 18.

Mazzei told Brown he would order subpoenas for the defense to obtain the documents.

Tierney and Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Santomartino said prosecutors have turned over 15 separate disclosures since Heuermann's last court appearance in February, including reports from the NYPD's missing persons investigation into the disappearance of alleged victim Maureen Brainard-Barnes. Santomartino said prosecutors focused their discovery obligations on a request by the defense to promptly receive leads from the police investigation into the killings.

“Since that [court] date we've turned over approximately 388 complete leads,” Santomartino said.

Tierney said that includes more than 7,000 pages on other persons of interest in the 13-year investigation. He declined to say how many other one-time suspects that might include, saying only that the documents pertain to other “names that were mentioned” during the investigation.

Other discovery items turned over in the past two months include “lab reports and inventories,” prosecutors said.

Mazzei said he would like to have discovery complete by the end of July.

“I think everyone understands the complexity, the volume, I should say, of the discovery,” Mazzei told the attorneys following a 30-minute conference in his chambers. “I want to get to the point where the people have provided all of the discovery, then we can turn to Mr. Brown to determine how long he is going to need to be ready for trial.”

Brown said it's too early to tell when a trial might be held.

Heuermann has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree murder in the killings of Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello and Melissa Barthelemy, and second-degree murder in the slaying of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, collectively known as the “Gilgo Four.” The victims, whose remains were discovered in 2010, were sex workers. Their remains were found “completely nude” and restrained by either tape, burlap or belts, court records show.

Discovery has included 12 terabytes of data, including a transcript of the grand jury presentation, 85 grand jury exhibits, autopsy reports, photographs from the crime scene and the medical examiner’s office, search warrants and affidavits, prosecutors said in a recent court filing. The defense was also given paperwork from the Suffolk County Police Department and its crime lab, as well as outside laboratory documentation, prosecutors said.

Heuermann has been held without bail since his July 13 arrest.

Prosecutors have said Heuermann had hundreds of contacts with sex workers in the years before he was arrested. He was connected to the crime primarily through cell site data, burner phone records and DNA evidence linking him to the women and the location where the bodies were found, prosecutors have said.

Heuermann used seven burner phones over a 14-month period to do approximately 200 searches about the Gilgo Beach investigation — even visiting the website Suffolk police created in 2020 as a clearinghouse for information and tips — and for photos of the victims and to learn about their family members, including siblings and children, Tierney has said.

Heuermann’s Chevrolet Avalanche pickup, which authorities said helped crack the case after a witness described it as being driven by a man who paid for services from Costello the day before she went missing, was recovered by FBI investigators in South Carolina. 

The attorneys for alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex A. Heuermann are seeking FBI files relating to former Suffolk County Chief of Police James Burke, whose own attorney said was previously cleared as a suspect in the case he once oversaw after meeting with Gilgo investigators. 

Michael J. Brown, of Central Islip, the lead attorney for the former Manhattan architect, said he has not yet seen any discovery related to Burke as he prepares for Heuermann's trial, but is requesting that “FBI documents and notes” regarding an investigation into the disgraced former chief of department be turned over.

“Our information and belief is the Suffolk County Police Department — especially with Chief Burke in charge — and the FBI were butting heads,” Brown told reporters following an appearance by Heuermann in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead on Wednesday. “To some extent, I think, Chief Burke was suppressing the investigation and wouldn't allow the FBI to participate in it with their expertise. What we are looking for, in particular, are the FBI documents and notes in regards to what they were investigating in regards to Chief Burke.”

Brown later clarified that those files might shed light on Burke's alleged lack of cooperation with the Gilgo Beach investigation and the federal government's involvement in it.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The attorneys for alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex A. Heuermann are seeking FBI files relating to former Suffolk County Chief of Police James Burke, whose own attorney said was previously cleared as a suspect in the case he once oversaw.
  • Michael J. Brown, the lead attorney for the former Manhattan architect, is requesting that “FBI documents and notes” regarding an investigation into the disgraced former chief of department be turned over.
  • Heuermann has pleaded not guilty to murder charges in connection with the killings of four women whose remains were found near Gilgo Beach in 2010.

“It seems contrary to common sense that Burke did not let the FBI in to help with this investigation back then, with their expertise,” Brown said. “That's why we're really looking forward to seeing those records from the FBI.”

Burke's attorney, James O'Rourke, of Smithtown, said Wednesday his client was investigated heavily by federal authorities when they prosecuted him for beating a handcuffed suspect and covering it up in an unrelated case more than a decade ago. But the FBI found no evidence that supported any theory that he was involved in the Gilgo Beach killings, O'Rourke said, adding that Burke also sat down with Suffolk homicide detectives following his federal conviction and was officially cleared as a Gilgo suspect.

“They wanted information from him, like where he was on such and such days when they believe the bodies were dumped and all this kind of stuff,” O'Rourke said. “In fact, he provided all of that. He sat down with one of the homicide investigators, detectives, and answered any and all questions. They found that there was really nothing there.”

O'Rourke said his client is “a convenient target” for the Heuermann defense team, but no information obtained by the FBI connects him to the Gilgo Beach slayings.

“They did everything but go to the cleaners where he has his underwear done,” O'Rourke said of the FBI's look into Burke. “I mean everything, and rightfully so ... if, God forbid, they find him on “X” and it turns out he was a mass murderer. James Burke may be a lot of things, but not a murderer, or a mass murderer, by any stretch. There's no evidence whatsoever to establish that.”

Through a spokesperson, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney declined to comment specifically on any allegations regarding Burke, who is currently being prosecuted by his office on a public lewdness charge stemming from an undercover county parks police investigation regarding prostitution in Farmingville in August. FBI Long Island spokesperson Daniel Crifo also declined to comment on the Burke and Heuermann investigations.

When questioned more generally regarding Brown's discovery request, Tierney said his office cannot turn over FBI files it doesn't have, since he does not have jurisdiction over the federal agency.

“I don't speak for the FBI. I'll let the FBI speak for itself,” said Tierney, who is a former federal prosecutor himself. “Obviously all the documentation that I have, I will turn over.”

The discovery concerns come as the defense focuses its attention on other potential suspects in the case. On April 12, Brown filed a discovery demand seeking information on a former police officer with the initials W.H. who investigators once considered a “top suspect” in the case. The letter, obtained by Newsday, references claims that former Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini had ordered the arrest of the officer earlier in the Gilgo Beach investigation, as detailed in an Aug. 3, 2023, article in The Washington Post that Brown presented to the court, along with his letter.

Brown said he received files pertaining to that suspect Wednesday, which revealed the former officer's name to the defense for the first time.

“We're very anxious to look at that documentation,” Brown said.

FBI agents arrest former Suffolk County Chief of Police James...

FBI agents arrest former Suffolk County Chief of Police James Burke outside his Smithtown home on Dec. 9, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

The initials W.H. were found on a belt buckle wrapped around the remains of one of the victims, investigators previously said.

The defense's discovery demand also includes a request for all notes regarding the Gilgo Beach investigation from former Suffolk Police Det. Patrick Portela, who was allegedly removed from the case after refusing to comply with orders by Sini to arrest W.H. in 2021, according to Brown's letter.

Sini also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Portela, who has since retired from the police department, could not be reached.

Heuermann, 60, of Massapequa Park, dressed in a dark, wrinkled suit and mostly stared straight ahead during the appearance. State Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei set Heuermann's next appearance for June 18.

Mazzei told Brown he would order subpoenas for the defense to obtain the documents.

Tierney and Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Santomartino said prosecutors have turned over 15 separate disclosures since Heuermann's last court appearance in February, including reports from the NYPD's missing persons investigation into the disappearance of alleged victim Maureen Brainard-Barnes. Santomartino said prosecutors focused their discovery obligations on a request by the defense to promptly receive leads from the police investigation into the killings.

“Since that [court] date we've turned over approximately 388 complete leads,” Santomartino said.

Tierney said that includes more than 7,000 pages on other persons of interest in the 13-year investigation. He declined to say how many other one-time suspects that might include, saying only that the documents pertain to other “names that were mentioned” during the investigation.

Other discovery items turned over in the past two months include “lab reports and inventories,” prosecutors said.

Mazzei said he would like to have discovery complete by the end of July.

“I think everyone understands the complexity, the volume, I should say, of the discovery,” Mazzei told the attorneys following a 30-minute conference in his chambers. “I want to get to the point where the people have provided all of the discovery, then we can turn to Mr. Brown to determine how long he is going to need to be ready for trial.”

Brown said it's too early to tell when a trial might be held.

Heuermann has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree murder in the killings of Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello and Melissa Barthelemy, and second-degree murder in the slaying of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, collectively known as the “Gilgo Four.” The victims, whose remains were discovered in 2010, were sex workers. Their remains were found “completely nude” and restrained by either tape, burlap or belts, court records show.

Discovery has included 12 terabytes of data, including a transcript of the grand jury presentation, 85 grand jury exhibits, autopsy reports, photographs from the crime scene and the medical examiner’s office, search warrants and affidavits, prosecutors said in a recent court filing. The defense was also given paperwork from the Suffolk County Police Department and its crime lab, as well as outside laboratory documentation, prosecutors said.

Heuermann has been held without bail since his July 13 arrest.

Prosecutors have said Heuermann had hundreds of contacts with sex workers in the years before he was arrested. He was connected to the crime primarily through cell site data, burner phone records and DNA evidence linking him to the women and the location where the bodies were found, prosecutors have said.

Heuermann used seven burner phones over a 14-month period to do approximately 200 searches about the Gilgo Beach investigation — even visiting the website Suffolk police created in 2020 as a clearinghouse for information and tips — and for photos of the victims and to learn about their family members, including siblings and children, Tierney has said.

Heuermann’s Chevrolet Avalanche pickup, which authorities said helped crack the case after a witness described it as being driven by a man who paid for services from Costello the day before she went missing, was recovered by FBI investigators in South Carolina. 

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