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Judge in Bittrolff murder trial allows jury to hear about 6 cleared suspects

John Bittrolff, 48, of Manorville, was arrested on

John Bittrolff, 48, of Manorville, was arrested on July 21, 2014, and faces charges of second-degree murder in connection with the beating and strangulation deaths of two women more than 20 years ago, police said. Credit: SCPD

Jurors will hear about six men investigated — and cleared — in the deaths of two women more than 23 years ago, during the murder trial of a Manorville carpenter.

But state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro prevented John Bittrolff’s defense team from presenting evidence implicating any of the other 146 men investigated over the years. Ambro ruled Friday in Riverhead that evidence concerning most of those other suspects was hearsay and speculative.

Bittrolff, 50, 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. Both women worked as prostitutes.

Bittrolff’s DNA was found in semen recovered from both bodies, but his lawyers have said that doesn’t mean he was the killer. They said police discounted anyone — even people said to have admitted to killing one or both victims — if their DNA wasn’t on the victims or their clothing.

“Anyone else with motive or opportunity was discarded,” said defense attorney William Keahon of Hauppauge. “There was no further investigation.”

Ambro permitted questioning about two police officers at the time who were investigated, Tangredi’s husband, an apparent client of McNamee and two members of the Pagans motorcycle gang, which apparently controlled McNamee’s prostitution and topless dancing.

Among those whom Ambro excluded from the case are:

  • A Pagan member who acted as McNamee’s pimp and is said to have told another man that he “whacked Colleen.”
  • Another Pagan member whose name and phone number were in a diary of McNamee’s that prosecutors found after the trial started. McNamee’s mother told detectives her daughter was afraid of this man.
  • A violent prostitute customer later charged with beating another woman with a lead pipe, who had a cracked baseball bat in his home with fibers stuck to it. This man reportedly told others he knew both Tangredi and McNamee.

Assistant District Attorney Jen Milito said the cases against these men were hearsay, inadmissible in court and not reliable. Ambro agreed.

Keahon said it was unfair to prevent the defense from asking detectives why these men weren’t investigated further.

Ambro said the law, as defined by several appellate rulings in similar cases, guided his decision. He also did not want to create trials of other men within this trial, he said.

But defense attorney Jonathan Manley of Hauppauge said that wasn’t their intent. Instead, the defense merely wants to use these cases to show that detectives abandoned investigating legitimate suspects who didn’t leave DNA behind.

“Our position is, and has been from the start, that the DNA is not dispositive,” Manley said. “I do think it’s important for the jury to know how thorough this investigation was.”

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