DNA nails suspect
Manorville resident John Bittrolff, the alleged killer of Rita Tangredi, 31, of East Patchogue and Colleen McNamee, 20, of Holbrook, whose body was found in Shirley, left DNA and wood chips at the crime scenes from over 20 years ago. He pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with two counts of murder in the second degree, last Thursday at the Suffolk County Court in Riverhead.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla told Suffolk County Court Judge Hon. John Toomey Jr. that evidence found from both scenes link Bittrolff to the crimes through DNA evidence.
Biancavilla said the DNA recovered from both 20-year-old crime scenes were found to be from the same single, male source. There was “no mix,” said Biancavilla, meaning there was only one source of DNA evidence recovered from the bodies. He also said the single source is that of Bittrolff. The probability of one person’s DNA matching both would be 1 in 81.6 quintillion, he added.
The DNA evidence was connected to Bittrolff after his brother Timothy Bittrolff’s DNA was collected back in June 2013 by his senior probation officer, Elena Mackie, who was at the time assigned to domestic violence issues. Timothy Bittrolff was convicted of violating an order of protection, thus requiring him to surrender his DNA with a swab of the mouth.
Donald Grauer, senior probation officer and president of the Suffolk County Probation Officers Association, said probation officers play a key role in the criminal justice system by collecting DNA evidence of those convicted and assigned to probation. He said Mackie’s mandated collection of Bittrolff’s brother’s DNA was the catalyst in solving these murders.
Grauer added that the murders were solved because of good police work and the hard work of the detectives, but “if it not had been for the role of probation in the system, they wouldn’t have it in the DNA database,” he said. “You do these tasks on a daily basis and you don’t always see how things come to fruition and when we see something like this in the news, it solidifies and reassures you the work you do plays an important role.”
If convicted, Bittrolff faces up to 50 years to life in prison.
“Had this case occurred after 1996, the charge would be distinctly different — murder in the first degree with life in prison without parole,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.
Among the woodchips, there was also “a number of” trace evidence collected at the scene that can link Bittrolff to the murders through his profession. “The significance of the wood chips and quite frankly the other trace evidence is now being examined by our forensic scientists and I suspect all the other trace evidence is also very common to the defendant’s occupation, a carpenter,” said Spota. “The woodchips that were found at the crime scenes of both Tangredi and McNamee were also found at the scene of Sandra Castilla [a possible third victim].”
All three women’s autopsies showed they were beaten and strangled to death, according to Spota. Biancavilla said the similarities are remarkable being that both Tangredi’s and McNamee’s bodies were found in the woods (in close proximity to where the defendant previously lived), were naked and posed in a significant position, and left with the same article of clothing missing.
Both women were beaten so brutality, Biancavilla said, their brains were expelled from their fractured skulls. At that point in court, Tangredi’s sister left the courtroom followed by her husband as she burst into tears.
Defense attorney William Keahon claims his client is not guilty and the case against him has yet to show any substantial proof. Biancavilla asked the judge to convict Bittrolff for each murder with consecutive sentences and to be held without bail pending trial.
“We are going to trial. [Assistant District Attorney Biancavilla] says the evidence is strong; I say it’s not because he is not guilty,” said Keahon. The case is not strong and the court should take in to account his client has roots in the community, owns a home, is married, and has two children, in school. Keahon said interviews with neighbors describe Bittrolff as “kind, generous and the best neighbor.”
Judge Toomey acknowledged Bittrolff’s strong roots in the community, his family, and his business of 30 years, yet chose to hold him without bail pending trial on Sept. 18 due to the seriousness and brutality of the case.
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