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Long IslandCrime

Murder suspect’s statements admissible at trial, judge says

John Bittrolff is seen inside state Supreme Court

John Bittrolff is seen inside state Supreme Court on July 31, 2014. Credit: James Carbone

A Manorville carpenter charged with strangling and bludgeoning two women to death more than 20 years ago insisted he was innocent in a videotaped interrogation played Wednesday during a pretrial hearing in Riverhead.

But when Suffolk homicide detectives told John Bittrolff, 49, how they had matched DNA from semen found in both bodies to him, he stopped talking.

“There’s no way,” Bittrolff told Det. Sgt. Charles Leser and Det. John McLeer in the video made on the day he was arrested, July 21, 2014. “End the conversation there, because now I need a lawyer.”

The hearing before state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro was to determine if Bittrolff’s statements to police would be admissible at trial. Ambro ruled they are admissible.

Bittrolff is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Rita Tangredi, 31, of East Patchogue, on Nov. 2, 1993, and Colleen McNamee, 20, of Holbrook, on Jan. 30, 1994.

The bodies of both women, who worked as prostitutes, were found in wooded areas posed identically — arms above their heads, legs spread and wood chips on their bodies.

Hours after the interrogation, McLeer said Bittrolff had a question for him as detectives dropped him off at the Fifth Precinct in Patchogue to spend the night in jail.

“How did you guys get my DNA?” Bittrolff asked, McLeer said during questioning Wednesday by Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla.

The detective said he explained to Bittrolff that DNA from his younger brother, Timothy, was found to be a partial match to the evidence from the victims’ bodies. Timothy’s DNA was entered into a state database after he was convicted of criminal contempt.

Detectives then followed John Bittrolff and went through his garbage until they found DNA matching the semen.

“I [expletive] knew it. I [expletive] knew it,” Bittrolff responded, according to McLeer.

During cross-examination, defense attorney William Keahon of Hauppauge suggested that didn’t happen. Keahon noted that Leser and McLeer already had told Bittrolff they got his DNA from items he’d discarded.

McLeer said Bittrolff seemed to be asking for more detail at the Fifth Precinct, so McLeer said he responded even though the interrogation had ended hours ago.

Keahon said afterward he believed in his client.

“I believe he’s innocent of these charges and I look forward to the trial and the opportunity to fight to get his life back,” Keahon said.

In the video taken at police headquarters in Yaphank, Bittrolff initially agreed to talk to Leser and McLeer.

“Have you ever used the services of a prostitute?” Leser asked Bittrolff.

“No, never,” he responded evenly.

Leser showed Bittrolff photos of Tangredi and crime-scene images of her dead body, found in East Patchogue.

“I don’t even recognize this girl,” Bittrolff said. When Leser showed him photos of McNamee, whose body was found in Manorville, he said, “I have no idea who this is.”

But Bittrolff seemed perturbed when Leser told him semen in the bodies belonged to him.

“To me? Really?” he said. “It surprises me, yes, because it’s not me.”

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