Rintala murder case back in court as jurors selected for trial No. 2

Wednesday, January 08, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — For the second time in just under a year, 16 people are being sought to help decide the fate of Cara Lee Rintala.

Jury selection began Tuesday in the retrial of Rintala on a charge of murder in connection with the strangulation death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, 37, in March 2010. Nine jurors were seated Tuesday, with the selection process to resume Wednesday morning.

Rintala appeared in Hampshire Superior Court Tuesday to participate in the juror vetting process. She has been held without bail since shortly after her indictment on the murder charge in October 2011.

After her first trial, which ended in a hung jury, Rintala made two unsuccessful bids to have bail posted for her; once in March for $100,000, the second in May for $250,000.

Prosecutors allege Rintala, 47, killed her wife after a tumultuous relationship that included filings of restraining orders and divorce papers, crushing debt and arguments over the custody of the couple’s daughter in the event of a split.

Jury selection may take the rest of the week, which would set up opening statements for Friday or the beginning of next week.

Defense attorneys David Hoose and Luke Ryan of Northampton maintain that prosecutors zeroed in on Cara Rintala before eliminating other potential suspects, and failed to adequately examine Annamarie Rintala’s supposed “secret life,” including an alleged relationship with a co-worker and secret phone and email accounts.

As in Cara Rintala’s first trial — which ended in March 2012 with a deadlocked jury, prompting the declaration of a mistrial — 16 jurors are being sought: 12 who will eventually deliberate the case and four alternates.

On Tuesday, 93 jurors were in the prospective pool. Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup said last week she expects to bring in about 100 potential jurors for each of the first three days of jury selection.

First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne said selection ended for the day about an hour after the regular close of court, with five women and four men named to the jury.

If the remaining seven seats are filled Wednesday, opening arguments could be held Thursday, Gagne said.

Jury selection was held in the seldom-used older courtroom to accommodate the larger-than-average jury pool.

Typically, jury pools consist of about 60 to 70 candidates.

Rintala, dressed in a white blouse and gray pants, appeared relaxed and poised as she stood with her legal team and the prosecution next to the judge’s bench to participate in the vetting process.

Annamarie Rintala’s parents sat in the court gallery’s front row throughout the selection process.

The 16 jurors for the first trial were selected from a pool of about 250, Gagne said. That trial began Feb. 20 and wrapped up March 13 after 12 days of testimony and 25 hours of deliberation.

This time around, a list of 80 potential witnesses has been filed with the court, down from about 91 in the first trial.

Only about one-third of those prospective witnesses were called to testify in the first trial.

In October, Rup granted the defense access to trace evidence, including animal hairs, found on Annamarie Rintala’s body to allow them to be examined by an expert.

At Cara Rintala’s first trial, forensic scientist Caroline Tatro testified that several hairs found in both of Annamarie Rintala’s hands and on her chin were animal fibers, likely from a cat. There was no evidence a cat lived in the couple’s home, according to Tatro.

Hoose suggested at trial that Annamarie Rintala was around a cat or in the company of a person who had been around a cat sometime before her death.

The defense also sought phone and email records and records from a Match.com dating profile, all allegedly belonging to Annamarie Rintala, to bolster their contention she had a secret life, and that someone she was secretly communicating with, or in debt to, might be responsible for her demise.

Stormy relationship

The couple was married in Provincetown on Aug. 8, 2007. Each spouse filed for divorce in the spring of 2009. Both cases were eventually dismissed, according to court records.

On March 29, 2010, a neighbor called 911 after Cara Rintala alerted him she had found her wife’s body in the basement of their home on Barton Street in Granby.

Police arrived and found Cara Rintala crying and cradling her wife’s lifeless, paint-covered body in her lap.

According to investigators and graphic crime scene photos presented at trial, Annamarie Rintala’s body and a portion of the basement floor were covered in a pinkish-white paint.

Hoose said the spilled paint and surrounding disarray in the basement suggested Annamarie Rintala was the victim of a home invasion or confrontation with someone other than her wife.

Prosecutors allege the spilled paint was an attempt by Cara Rintala to foul the crime scene and obscure evidence while she created the illusion of a break-in.

Cara Rintala said during a 2½-hour recorded interview with police the night of her wife’s death that she had wanted to give her wife the opportunity to rest that afternoon and took their daughter with her to run errands before returning home and finding the body.

Text messages sent between the couple were presented by both sides to illustrate Cara Rintala’s possible state of mind leading up to her wife’s death.

Messages from Annamarie Rintala to her wife the night before her death expressed frustration about a male friend being at the house and socializing with Cara Rintala while she was working an overnight shift as a paramedic for American Medical Response, an ambulance company in Holyoke.

“It is becoming very clear how you feel about me,” one of the messages from Annamarie Rintala’s phone read. “I HATE THE RELATIONSHIP WE HAVE,” read another.

At trial, Hoose presented other text messages between the pair that indicated quite a different tone in their relationship.

“Holding you in my arms makes me complete. You are my life,” read a message sent from Annamarie Rintala’s phone to her wife’s about five days before she was killed.

Much of the testimony during the first trial focused on physical evidence recovered from the home, the time of Annamarie Rintala’s death and Cara Rintala’s whereabouts between the time she left the house about 3 p.m. and the time she found the body about 7:15.

During her police interview, Cara Rintala described a roundabout route she took while out with their daughter, including a stop at a Holyoke McDonald’s, where she allegedly dumped a bag containing rags and other trash from their home.

Prosecutors said a rag recovered from that bag of trash had a blood stain on it and was an indication she was attempting to dispose of evidence after having cleaned up the crime scene before leaving the house.

Hoose said the stain on the rag is only “likely blood” and could be an old stain or the result of a “false positive” test for the presence of blood and isn’t an indication of any crime.

First responders who testified at trial said Annamarie Rintala’s body was already cold and stiff by the time they arrived and the paint in the basement was still wet.

Prosecutors said that indicated she had already been dead for several hours by the time the paint was poured in the basement.

Hoose said there was no accurate accounting of the time of death and estimates put it right within the window of time described by his client while she was away from the home.

Jurors deliberated for about 25 hours before informing Judge Mary-Lou Rup, who presided over the earlier trial and is presiding over the current one, that they could not reach a unanimous verdict, which is required for either a conviction or an acquittal.

Rintala faces life in prison if convicted.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.