John Bittrolff appears in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead ...

John Bittrolff appears in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead  on July 31, 2014. Credit: James Carbone

A Manorville carpenter convicted of strangling and bludgeoning two women to death more than three decades ago is seeking a new trial, alleging prosecutors withheld an Internal Affairs Bureau file, court records show.

The file would have revealed that the now ex-wife of Suffolk Police Officer Teddy Hart told investigators she believed her husband was responsible for one of the killings, according to court papers.

Legal Aid Society attorneys for John Bittrolff, 57, said they learned of the allegation made by Denise Hart while preparing an appeal of their client’s 2017 conviction for second-degree murder in the killings of Rita Tangredi and Colleen McNamee. Prosecutors insist, however, the defense has had the document since the beginning of the case.

Lisa Marcoccia, deputy appeals bureau chief for the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, alleged in court papers that a previously sealed ruling showed State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro had ordered the IAB file be turned over to Bittrolff’s defense as Brady material because it contained allegations by Denise Hart that she believed Teddy Hart may have killed Tangredi, 31, of East Patchogue.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A Manorville carpenter convicted of strangling and bludgeoning two women to death more than three decades ago is seeking a new trial.
  • John Bittrolff, 57, is alleging prosecutors withheld an Internal Affairs Bureau file he argues would have helped his defense, court papers show.
  • Legal Aid Society attorneys representing Bittrolff are preparing an appeal of their client’s 2017 conviction for second-degree murder in the killings of Rita Tangredi and Colleen McNamee.

While the defense was aware of Hart's role as a prior suspect and mentioned him at trial, they could have approached their cross-examination of witnesses differently had they been aware of the allegation, the appeals team argued.

“There is no doubt that the withholding of the Tangredi IAB File was prejudicial to Mr. Bittrolff,” Marcoccia wrote. “The Tangredi IAB File contained an accusation by someone who had a close, intimate relationship to Teddy Hart — his former wife — that she believed he killed Rita Tangredi. This accusation, in conjunction with the other complaints against former police officer Teddy Hart involving his sadistic behavior, could have swayed the jury regarding Mr. Bittrolff’s guilt since the evidence against him was questionable and the jury reported a deadlock on several occasions.”

Judge to make a decision

Ambro has not ruled on the motion. He previously denied an application to vacate Bittrolff’s conviction over different evidence concerns raised by his attorneys. Bittrolff is serving a 50-years-to-life sentence at Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora.

In a response filed last month, Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Guy Arcidiacono said prosecutors did turn over the Hart IAB file almost immediately, referencing a letter from trial prosecutor Robert Biancavilla indicating 171 pages were hand-delivered to defense attorney Bill Keahon three months before the start of trial. Keahon later acknowledged receiving the file in a memo shortly before jury selection began, according to the filing by Arcidiacono, which urges the judge to deny Bittrolff's motion.

“Beyond defendant’s failure to even meet a threshold burden that there had not been disclosure, the material in question had no bearing on the likelihood of defendant’s conviction,” Arcidiacono wrote.

Keahon submitted an affidavit last October stating he does not recall receiving a specific allegation that Hart may have killed Tangredi.

“An IAB file with an accusation related to Rita Tangredi is highly significant and I would have undoubtedly used this during my cross-examination of witnesses at trial,” Keahon wrote in his sworn statement. Reached by telephone this week, Keahon said he stands by his affidavit.

Other allegations contained in the IAB file.

Arcidiacono told the judge in his filing that a review by current district attorney’s office staff showed the IAB file turned over to Keahon does contain allegations Hart’s wife made against her husband but does not directly implicate him in Tangredi’s murder.

Other allegations made by Hart’s former wife include that she found him in possession of a hank of human hair shortly after an unexplained absence, that he would point sex workers out by name to his wife and that he possessed explicit photographs he said women shared with him in attempts to avoid receiving traffic tickets, according to a copy of the district attorney's response to the Bittrolff motion obtained by Newsday. The IAB file also contained a photograph found in Hart’s home showing “a bound unclothed young female who appeared to be bleeding from the nose,” Arcidiacono noted in his response.

Instead, Arcidiacono said, the file contains a reference to a DNA analysis in June 2002 of items belonging to Hart that were compared with the DNA of Tangredi, a sex worker who was killed Nov. 2, 1993. A DNA expert testified at Bittrolff’s trial that Hart’s DNA was not found at the Tangredi or McNamee crime scenes.

Former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota announced the arrest of John...

Former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota announced the arrest of John Bittrolff in the beating and strangulation deaths of Rita Tangredi, 31, and Colleen McNamee, 20 on July 22, 2014. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Hart, now 64, resigned after 12 years with the Suffolk County Police Department in November 2000, the same month he pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated harassment, computer trespass and official misconduct. He admitted repeatedly calling women late at night and threatening to rape them after obtaining their phone numbers from police computers. Hart could not be reached for comment for this story.

Tangredi’s murder remained unsolved for two decades until Suffolk homicide detectives obtained a Bittrolff DNA sample that matched semen recovered from both her and McNamee, 20, a fellow sex worker from Holbrook who was killed in a similar fashion three months after Tangredi. Bittrolff was arrested in 2014 and charged with the murder of both women, whose bodies were posed similarly, with their clothes nearby, except for one shoe each and their underwear.

Biancavilla, who tried the case under former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota in 2017, told reporters at Bittrolff’s sentencing that he believed the carpenter may be responsible for the killings at Gilgo Beach, four of which since have been charged to Manhattan architect Rex A. Heuermann, 60, of Massapequa Park. Bittrolff lived a short distance from where partial remains of two Gilgo Beach victims had been found in a wooded area of Manorville.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney has stated in recent months that he does not believe Bittrolff has any connection to the Gilgo Beach slayings.

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