DNA evidence found on two murdered prostitutes doesn’t mean John Bittrolff killed the woman, it just means he had sex with them, defense attorney William Keahon said Monday in his closing statement of the murder case against Mr. Bittrolff.
But Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said that while more than 50 suspects were tested, Mr. Bittrolff was the only one whose DNA matched what was found at both crime scenes. The bodies of both victims were discovered in wooded areas months apart more than 20 years ago. Mr. Biancavilla said a forensics expert testified that both women had sex within a half hour of dying.
“That doesn’t mean they just had sex,” Mr. Biancavilla told the jury in state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro’s courtroom. “It means he killed them.”
The nine-week-old case is now with the jury, who began deliberating Monday afternoon.
Mr. Bittrolff, a 50-year-old Manorville carpenter and married father of two, was arrested on second-degree murder charges in 2014 for the 1993 and 1994 cold cases.
Rita Tangredi-Beinlich, 31, was found dead Nov. 3, 1993 in the woods off Esplanade Drive near South Country Road in East Patchogue. Colleen McNamee, 20, was found dead Jan. 30, 1994 in the woods east of the William Floyd Parkway in North Shirley.
Both women worked as prostitutes and were found nude, strangled and with severe heads injuries. Both victims were also discovered with their legs spread apart and had wood chips on their bodies, Mr. Biancavilla said.
Mr. Keahon spent much of his closing statement arguing that evidence destroyed by police in both murder cases could have identified other suspects.
He said 148 items of evidence in Ms. McNamee’s case were mistakenly thrown away and 18 items of evidence from Ms. Tangeni’s case also were destroyed.
Mr. Keahon 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, he said.
Among the evidence was wood shavings, which could have been similar to the wood chips found on the victims, he added.
“How does this happen?” Mr. Keahon asked.
Mr. Biancavilla said both police officers were eliminated as suspects through DNA. He acknowledged that evidence in both cases were mistakenly destroyed and said it was due to a labeling error.
“There’s no excuses,” Mr. Biancavilla said. “They shouldn’t have been destroyed.”