Denis Dillon, the former district attorney who presided over Nassau County for more than three decades, died of lymphoma at his Rockville Centre home early Sunday morning at the age of 76.
Dillon’s 31-year tenure made him one of longest-serving district attorneys in history, second in New York State only to Robert Morgenthau, who held the office from 1975 until 2009.
First elected as a Democrat in 1974, Dillon became a Republican in 1985 after his party’s pro-choice platform went against his views as a staunch Catholic. He went on to serve eight terms as district attorney before being unseated in 2005 by Kathleen Rice, a New York State Attorney General hopeful.
Dillon had several particularly infamous cases under his belt. He successfully prosecuted Amy Fisher after she, as a 16-year-old, shot her lover’s wife in the head in 1992.
Fisher, nicknamed the Long Island Lolita, visited the home of her much-older lover, car mechanic Joey Buttafuoco, and shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco as she answered the door. She served seven years in prison for the attack.
Joey Buttafuoco, also prosecuted by Dillon, pleaded guilty to statutory rape and served four months in jail. His wife survived the shooting but was partially paralyzed. The couple remained together after the Fisher affair but divorced in 2003 after moving to California.
Dillon also successfully prosecuted Colin Ferguson after he randomly sprayed a crowded commuter train car with bullets from a 9mm semiautomatic gun on Dec. 7, 1993, killing six people and injuring 19.
Ferguson, who represented himself at trial, claimed he was wrongfully prosecuted because he’s black. He’s serving six consecutive life terms for the massacre.
Dillon was criticized by opponents charging he was swayed by his religion — as a right-to-life advocate who opposed abortion and personally protested outside abortion clinics. In his office, he kept a picture of the Virgin Mary.
On Sunday, the current Nassau County district attorney released a statement saying she learned of his death “with profound sadness.”
Rice called Dillon “a man of integrity, of principle and of tireless commitment” to the community.
“That selflessness spanned the length of his lifelong public service and will remain an inspirational pillar of our office long after his passing,” she said.
Dillon, who was born in the Bronx, ran for governor in 1986 as nominee of the Right to Life Party. He served as president of the New York State District Attorneys Association.
His other high-profile cases included the prosecutions of Joel Rifkin, a former landscaper who admitted killing more than a dozen women, mostly prostitutes, between 1991 and 1993, and of Arnold Friedman, who with his teenage son pleaded guilty in 1988 to molesting children during computer classes in the basement of their home in Great Neck.
Rifkin, who is serving a life sentence, admitted 17 slayings after his May 1994 murder conviction in Nassau County. He also pleaded guilty to two murders in neighboring Suffolk County.
Friedman, whose sex abuse case was profiled in the Academy Award-nominated 2003 documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” committed suicide in prison in 1995.
With Associated Press.