The prosecution labeled it “a case about science and the use of DNA in its infancy.”
The defense said it’s a tale of corruption with a chapter on destroying evidence that might have implicated police officers in the murder of two prostitutes.
The opening statements in the trial against John Bittrolff, a 50-year-old Manorville carpenter who is married and has two children, began Wednesday before Judge Richard Ambro in Suffolk County Criminal Court.
Mr. Bittrolff was arrested July 21, 2014 and charged with two counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Rita Tangredi and Colleen McNamee. Police said at the time that DNA evidence obtained from Mr. Bittrolff’s brother connected him to the crimes that occurred over 20 years ago.
On Nov. 2, 1993, Ms. Tangredi, 31, who had no known address at the time, was found in a wooded area off Esplanade Drive in East Patchogue. Ms. McNamee, 20, of Holbrook was found dead in the woods near Express Drive South, near William Floyd Parkway in Shirley on Jan. 30, 1994. Both women were found nude, beaten and strangled to death and DNA obtained at the time established that they were likely killed by the same suspect, police said.
Both victims were prostitutes and drug users, police said, and the cases went unsolved until police found a partial DNA match from Mr. Bittrolff’s brother, Timothy Bittrolff.
Since Timothy Bittrolff was convicted of criminal contempt in 2013, he was required by state law to provide a DNA sample to authorities, which was then entered into a statewide DNA database created in 2000, assistant district attorney Robert Biancavilla said.
The DNA of semen found on the victims was a partial match for Timothy Bittrolff, Mr. Biancavilla said.
While he was ruled out as a suspect in the murders, police began investigating his relatives and started to follow John Bittrolff, Mr. Biancavilla said, adding that authorities tested a cigarette his wife tossed to the ground and took his trash after he placed nine garbage bags outside his home.
After a cup found in that trash provided a match connecting Mr. Bittrolff’s DNA to the semen found on the victims, Suffolk police arrested him in connection with the killings, the assistant district attorney said.
“The killer left his calling card on both girls,” Mr. Biancavilla told the jury. “He didn’t realize that he also left his genetic fingerprints on the victims.”
More than 60 men, including two Suffolk police officers, were investigated and ruled out as suspects because their DNA wasn’t a match, he said.
William Keahon, Mr. Bittrolff’s attorney, highlighted the investigations of Suffolk County Police Officer Teddy Hart, who was fired in 2001 for making threats of violence toward women, and then-Sgt. Michael Murphy, who has since been promoted to lieutenant.
In the case against Mr. Murphy — who was investigated in 1998 and whose father was head of Suffolk detectives at the time — murder evidence placed inside a police vehicle was destroyed in 2005, Mr. Keahon said.
Among the evidence was wood shavings, which could have been similar to the wood chips found on the victims, he said.
Mr. Keahon added that Suffolk police destroyed a total of 148 pieces of evidence in the murder of Ms. McNamee in 2007.
Mr. Biancavilla acknowledged that evidence was “mistakenly destroyed.”
“We’re not perfect,” he said, calling the mistake “a speed bump or hiccup along the way.”
Mr. Keahon told the jury, “I can’t see that evidence and have it analyzed. It’s gone. Destroyed. And the prosecutor refers to that as a bump in the road.”
Mr. Biancavilla said the wood shavings “were not consistent with the wood chips found at the scene.”
He also said the police vehicle was in an accident and taken to a body shop. All of the evidence had been photographed before it was destroyed, he said, adding more information about the incident will be discussed during the trial.
“We’re not holding anything back or hiding anything from you,” he told the jury.
The trial is expected to last 10 weeks, the DA’s office said.
File photo: John Bittrolff mugshot. (Credit: Suffolk County Police Department)