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Barry Grennan, former Nassau prosecutor, dead at 77

Even after he became the chief of Nassau County's Major Offense Bureau in 1977, prosecutor Barry Grennan made it his business to go to the scene of every homicide in the county personally, his wife said.

He would slip quietly out of bed and drive to the crime scene, occasionally with his wife or one of his five children in tow, Sheila Grennan said.

"He loved the excitement of it," she said. "And the challenge."

Grennan, who served under then-Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon as chief of the Major Offense Bureau from 1977 to 1994, was the first prosecutor in New York State to secure a manslaughter conviction without the victim's body. He died Sunday in Palm Beach, Fla., after a fight against emphysema. He was 77.

Known as a tough taskmaster, Grennan nevertheless inspired loyalty and respect among his troops.

"He had a gruff voice and a gruff exterior, but it was all surface," said Fred Klein, who succeeded Grennan as bureau chief. "Deep down he was just a very caring, supportive person to work for."

Grennan was born in Milton, Mass., in 1932 and moved to Manhasset as a young boy, his wife said. He attended Boston College, graduating in 1954, and spent two years in the U.S. Marine Corps before going to Brooklyn Law School, where he graduated in 1959.

He married his first love, Sheila Vogt Grennan, in 1954. The two moved to Kings Point and had five children.

When Grennan joined the Nassau district attorney's office in 1968, he quickly stood out as an aggressive prosecutor who could win over a jury, his colleagues said.

"You could always see the jury perk up when Barry got up to cross-examine someone," said Stephen Scaring, who preceded Grennan as chief of Major Offense, which then was called the Homicide Bureau. "When Barry was on trial and I had nothing to do, I'd always stop in and watch him, because it was fun."

Grennan was perhaps best known for securing the manslaughter conviction of Thomas Busacca of Baldwin for the killing of his wife, Florence, even though her body had not been found.

Police who reported to Busacca's home found blood and bone chips, but they didn't find Florence's body until well after Grennan had succeeded in winning her husband's conviction. Busacca died in prison.

"He had a very quick mind and he could use it," said Nassau County Judge George Peck, who served as Grennan's deputy and considered him a close friend.

As bureau chief, Grennan was a wonderful mentor and teacher, Klein said. "He taught me a lot of stuff about being a man, about being an adult. He taught me how to relate to people and earn their trust and loyalty," he said.

Grennan retired in 1994 and moved to Jupiter, Fla., where he spent much of his time pursuing another passion, sailing.

In addition to his wife, Grennan is survived by his sons, Barry Grennan Jr. of Massapequa, Michael Grennan of Plainview, Sean Grennan of Huntington and Brian Grennan of Glen Cove; a daughter, Maryliz Uihlein of Glen Head; eight siblings, Denyse Stemmermann of Sarasota, Fla., Thomas Grennan of Georgetown, Ohio, Joanne Wallwork of Lake Charles, La., Janet Brown of Jacksonville, Fla., Susan Wolfrey of Cocoa, Fla., Maryanne Davis of Winter Park, Fla., Carol Sheely of Boston, Mass., and Gerald Grennan of Oviedo, Fla.; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A private celebration of his life will be held Thursday. The family asks that any donations be made to Hospice of Palm Beach County, Fla.

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