A Suffolk jury Wednesday convicted a Manorville carpenter of two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of two women in 1993 and 1994 — ending seven days of deliberation in which jurors three times told the judge they were deadlocked.
John Bittrolff, 51, was found guilty of killing the two women after DNA linked him to semen recovered from their bodies. The women, who had worked as prostitutes, had been strangled, badly bludgeoned and left naked and posed similarly, with their legs apart and one or both arms above their heads.
The case is the first in the state to be solved using familial DNA, according to prosecutor Robert Biancavilla.
“There is no way this case would have been solved without the technology we have today,” he said of the new and controversial forensic technique.
Police were led to Bittrolff through the DNA of his brother, Timothy Bittrolff, who had been convicted of criminal contempt. Timothy Bittrolff’s DNA was put into the state database, which came up as a partial match to DNA at one crime scene and led authorities to his brother.
Biancavilla said, “This case speaks volumes about the advancements in science.” He acknowledged the prosecution case had some questions — “speed bumps” — but the technology convinced the jury.
Jurors, who listened to seven weeks of testimony, last week had told State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro in Riverhead on both Wednesday and Thursday that they were deadlocked.
But he sent them back to continue deliberating, giving them instructions called the Allen charge, in which he said no other group of 12 people would do any better at reaching a verdict and urged them to try harder to agree.
After a third note Wednesday telling the judge they were deadlocked, Ambro gave them the Allen charge again.
Around 3:30 p.m., the jury announced the conviction. Jurors said that until shortly before the verdict, the vote was 10 to 2 for conviction.
The Bittrolff family appeared stunned by the verdict. His wife, Patty Asero, let out a loud gasp after the verdict was read.
The victims were Rita Tangredi, 31, of East Patchogue, and Colleen McNamee, 20, of Holbrook.
Tangredi was killed Nov. 2, 1993, off a dirt road that is now Esplanade Drive in East Patchogue. McNamee was found south of the Long Island Expressway service road in Shirley, just east of the William Floyd Parkway, on Jan. 30, 1994. She had been missing for more than three weeks.
The McNamee family said little after the verdict. They patted each other on the shoulder and nodded, then embraced and celebrated in the hallway.
Biancavilla said “The verdict lifted a cloud off of these families.”
Other than the DNA, there was no evidence presented that linked Bittrolff directly to the killings. No witnesses saw him with the women or in the areas where they were killed. He insisted on his innocence from the moment he was told of the accusations.
Defense attorney William Keahon said Bittrolff will appeal.
“There are a lot of issues in this case,” he said, without elaborating. He said Bittrolff “understands this is the first step. We have a verdict, now we can move on. The fight is certainly not over. It will continue.”
Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a statement: “The families of these women have been through an agonizing long wait for justice and during the trial they had to endure graphic testimony about the death of their loved one. We hope the verdict today gives them some semblance of peace.”
Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 12.
Biancavilla had argued during the trial that “wood chips” found on the bodies were part of Bittrolff’s “signature style” of killing. Biancavilla said the “wood chips” were a result of Bittrolff’s profession as a carpenter.
But there were never any actual wood chips, and they weren’t on the bodies. Forensic scientist Thomas Zaveski said what was actually recovered were microscopic particles, and they were found on the victims’ clothing.
Under a microscope, he determined that some of them could be wood, but others were plastic, metal foil or glass. Years later, almost all of this evidence — and photographs of them — were destroyed by the Suffolk Police Department.
Ambro told jurors before deliberations that they could infer that evidence destroyed by the police would have been favorable to the defense.
Peter Schmidt, an alternate juror, 72, of Eatons Neck and a juror who is 20 but wouldn’t give her name or town, said 10 jurors wanted conviction and two held out for another verdict until Wednesday afternoon.
The woman said a lot of jurors believed Bittrolff was probably guilty. “But probably was not good enough. You want to make sure. You have somebody’s life in your hands,” she said.
The woman said everybody on the jury kept an open mind and was allowed speak and argue their points of view. It was a respectful process with no acrimony, she said.
Another juror, 29, of Melville, who didn’t give his name, said “A lot of us had our own doubts about a lot of things in this case. As we reviewed the evidence we were able to put the pieces together.”
He said the prosecution was built on “a lot of circumstantial evidence” but as they examined the evidence he became convinced.
“It took some of us longer than others. We didn’t want to rush it because somebody’s life and freedom are in our hands,” the Melville juror said. “Once I put all the pieces together, I had no doubts.”
With Andrew Smith