Editorial: Two juries, two mistrials — Is a Rintala prosecution still viable?

Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2014
Unless prosecutors can develop more compelling evidence that Cara Lee Rintala killed her spouse, they won’t get a conviction. As much as people want to know what happened in the basement of the Rintalas’ home March 29, 2010, those answers depend on a jury being convinced the narrative laid out by prosecutors is right beyond a reasonable doubt.

On Tuesday, a second jury was not able to find the Granby woman innocent or guilty, mirroring a trial’s outcome last March. The panel didn’t even come close to agreeing, as it must. At least four jurors, after weeks of testimony, refused to convict Rintala of strangling Annamarie Cochrane Rintala . The Northwestern district attorney’s office has tried twice now to persuade 12 jurors the Rintalas’ marriage went so wrong that Cara ended it with violence.

On Monday, with the jury at an impasse, its members were told by Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup they should keep at it. She told the deadlocked panel this was still their duty. Rup said they should not believe another jury would be any more able to decide this case.

Despite that pep talk, the differences ran so deep these eight women and four men felt they could not reach a unanimous verdict.

Those who follow murder cases in the news are free to come to their own conclusions about guilt and innocence. But thankfully, the American judicial system uses time-tested procedures to guide jurors along the way to the decision that only they can make.

One juror told the Gazette she and others worked hard over 25 hours to reach a verdict. She identified herself as one of those holding out for acquittal. The circumstantial case built against Cara Rintala did not convince her of the woman’s guilt.

After the first mistrial, in March 2013, prosecutors regrouped, decided to bring the case back to trial and changed tactics. In the second trial, the lead investigator in the case spent four court sessions on the witness stand to make the case and fend off a rigorous cross-examination. A workplace friend of the victim who did not testify in the first trial took the stand this time around, in an apparent attempt to remove him as an alternate suspect. We think First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne presented a stronger case against Cara Rintala this time. But it fell short.

Gagne adamantly refutes the defense view that his team looked too narrowly at Cara Rintala. “For any person for which there was a shard of viable, credible evidence indicating they may have been involved in this case, that lead was exhausted, that lead was investigated and in our view all the evidence kept coming back to one person and one person alone, and that is Cara Rintala,” he said Tuesday.

But the case was not enough to bring a conviction — and it is reasonable to question whether it will ever be enough unless prosecutors are able to present more compelling evidence.

With the jury thanked and dismissed, attorneys continued to press their cases Tuesday, now to reporters and the general public. While Cara Rintala of course wanted an acquittal, she wins by being spared a guilty finding. Defense attorney David Hoose called on the DA’s office to allow her to be released. She has been held since the murder charge was brought against her in October 2011, despite efforts to get her out on a high bail. If there is to be another trial, it seems unfair to continue to deny her liberty over the year or more it will take to return to court.

Gagne said Tuesday that prosecutors will consult with the victim’s family about a third trial, but indicated they are “in this for the long haul. I haven’t sensed anything in their resolve or their dedication to stop their fight to see justice achieved for Annamarie.”

No one wants answers, and justice, more than this family. The prospect of never getting a verdict, one way or another, stalks all involved with this case. Prosecutors may indicate by Tuesday whether they intend to seek a third trial. Another option, outlined by Hoose, would be to dismiss the current indictment and, at some point in the future, seek to re-indict Cara Rintala based on new evidence. Though it comes from the opposition, it isn’t a bad idea.

At least eight jurors so far have been thoroughly unconvinced. At least 12 have been persuaded of Rintala’s guilt. But jurors must agree.

The case assembled so far stands little chance of resulting in a different verdict next time.