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Long IslandCrime

Lawyers in Bittrolf murder case spar in closing arguments

John Bittrolff is seen inside state Supreme Court

John Bittrolff is seen inside state Supreme Court on July 31, 2014, where he was arraigned on an indictment charge in the killing of two women. Credit: James Carbone

Attorneys debated Monday whether the presence of a Manorville carpenter’s DNA in two women killed 23 years ago means he was the one who ended their lives.

Defense attorney William Keahon told jurors in his closing argument that the DNA does not prove that John Bittrolff, 50, is the one who strangled and bludgeoned Rita Tangredi, 31, of East Patchogue, and Colleen McNamee, 20, of Holbrook. Both worked as prostitutes.

“The DNA in this case is not proof of murder,” Keahon said. “They want you to assume that because he had sex with these two women, he must have killed them. And if you have to assume something, you don’t know if it’s true.”

But Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said Bittrolff’s DNA recovered from semen in both bodies has only one, obvious meaning.

“It means he killed them,” Biancavilla said. “What other explanation is there that both women ended up dead, with their brains bashed in, shortly after having sex with John Bittrolff? There is no other explanation.”

The jury deliberated for an hour Monday evening in Riverhead before state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro told jurors to resume Tuesday.

Keahon began his closing argument with a sustained attack on Biancavilla’s credibility and the Suffolk County Police Department. He reminded jurors that Biancavilla told them that “wood chips” found on both bodies linked the killings to each other and to Bittrolff, because of his profession. Biancavilla said it was part of Bittrolff’s “signature style” of killing.

“Now you know that statement’s not true,” Keahon said. “You know there were no wood chips on these bodies. And he knew that.”

No witness testified about finding wood chips. Instead, a forensic scientist said microscopic particles, some of which may have been wood, were recovered from both victims’ clothing. Biancavilla did not address this issue in his summation.

Almost all of that trace evidence was destroyed by the police in 2007. Keahon reminded jurors that police also destroyed evidence collected from two officers who were once suspects in the case.

“How does this happen?” Keahon said. “How do I make argument about something that I can’t see, that I can’t examine? . . . How much do you take until you say, I don’t trust anything about this case?”

Biancavilla said this complaint was ridiculous, because the defense never showed any interest in examining any of the evidence before the 9-week trial. He conceded it was careless to destroy the evidence, but said the police should be commended for all their work. Tangredi was killed on Nov. 2, 1993 and McNamee some time before Jan. 30, 1994.

Keahon said no evidence other than DNA pointed to his client. No one from the 1990s testified about anything Bittrolff said or did then, and no one linked him to the women or the crime scenes, Keahon said.

Biancavilla agreed that Bittrolff was not a suspect until 2013, when his brother was arrested and gave a DNA sample that indicated he was related to whoever left the semen in the victims.

“In 2013, the fish jumped in the boat on the Bittrolff case,” Biancavilla said.

The difficulty in finding the killer proved how smart Bittrolff was for picking these victims.

“They are victims that society has thrown away,” Biancavilla said. “Who’s going to care about a . . . dead prostitute?”


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