Thursday, February 06, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — For the second time in less than 12 months, a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict in the murder trial of Cara Lee Rintala.
Jurors informed Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup about 10 a.m. Tuesday that they were unable to overcome the 8-4 deadlock they reported last Friday, and said more deliberation likely would not change that. Rup declared a mistrial at about 10:30 a.m.
Rintala, 47, is charged with strangling her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, 37, in the basement of the couple’s Granby home on March 29, 2010.
Juror Alena Bartoli of Northampton said she was one of the “not guilty” votes on the panel.
“I just was not convinced by the evidence the prosecution presented,” she said when reached at home late Tuesday afternoon. “For me, there was direct evidence of murder but everything else was circumstantial. Murder is a very serious charge and I wanted to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Bartoli declined to comment on whether the majority in the jury’s 8-4 deadlock vote was for or against a conviction. She said her fellow jurors “all worked really hard.”
“I feel really honored to have been able to serve my community,” Bartoli said.
Cara Rintala, who has been held without right to bail since her arrest in October 2011, will continue to be held pending a status hearing scheduled for Feb. 11, when the defense may petition for bail.
The retrial jury, comprising eight women and four men, deliberated for approximately 25 hours, about the same time as jurors in the first trial before they declared a deadlock in March 2013.
The first jury reported an 8-4 split in favor of conviction.
Testimony in the retrial began Jan. 9 and concluded with closing statements from both legal teams Jan. 28.
Prosecutors accuse Cara Rintala of strangling her wife at the end of a tumultuous relationship plagued by violent arguments, theft of money and crushing debt and mistrust surrounding friendships outside the marriage.
Her defense maintains Cara Rintala is the target of a narrowly focused investigation that zeroed in on her while ignoring evidence that did not fit the theory that she committed the murder.
News of the hung jury frustrated both the defense and prosecution as well as family members and supporters on both sides of the case.
“It’s obviously not the outcome that I think anybody wanted in this case,” said First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne, the lead prosecutor in both trials.
“Both sides desire a resolution to this matter, they desire a verdict,” Gagne said during a press conference following the mistrial declaration. “And this outcome clearly leaves a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of unfulfilled hopes, I believe, on both sides.”
In an interview in his Northampton office following the mistrial declaration, defense attorney David Hoose said, “It’s a bitter pill to swallow. There’s no sense of relief from (Cara).
“She’s disappointed. She felt very good throughout this trial that the jury would acquit her,” Hoose said.
Now that a second jury has failed to convict or acquit Cara Rintala on the murder charge, the next steps — including whether to pursue a third trial — remain to be seen.
Gagne said there is nothing prohibiting the state from continuing to pursue the case until there is a verdict one way or the other.
“At this point, what we intend to do at the district attorney’s office is to consult with Annamarie’s family ... and take into account their wishes and their position at this time,” Gagne said.
“This process has taken an enormous toll on them. But they appear to be in this for the long haul,” Gagne said. “I haven’t sensed anything in their resolve or their dedication to stop their fight to see justice achieved for Annamarie.”
Hoose said he hopes prosecutors will consider dismissing the indictment against his client.
“I’m very much hoping the district attorney’s office will reach the conclusion that, having given it their best shot twice, it really doesn’t make sense to put the same evidence before a third Hampshire County jury,” Hoose said.
Based on Gagne’s comments, that appears unlikely.
“This isn’t a drunk driving case, this isn’t a bank robbery,” Gagne said. “I can’t think of a case that would better warrant the full resources of the district attorney’s office being put behind it than pursuing justice for a murder victim and her family. So, if ever there was a case to go to bat three times or more in the pursuit of justice, this would be the case.”
Hoose said it’s appropriate to take the victim’s family’s wishes into consideration when deciding whether to pursue a third trial.
“Obviously they have to take the victims’ views into consideration. It’s devastating for them, too, and it wreaks emotional havoc on them every time they have to go through this,” Hoose said.
Hoose said he will continue to represent Cara Rintala throughout the process.
“I’m certainly not about to abandon her after this,” Hoose said. “I’ve been representing her for nearly four years now, and I have no intention of abandoning her.”
Hoose said, “I have the greatest respect for (the district attorney’s) office. I think they’re a very good group, a very fair group, and I know that they will at least hear me out and I think they will hear out the community as well as to whether it makes sense to put the same evidence in front of a jury a third time.”
Hoose said prosecutors have the option of dismissing the current indictment, then re-indicting Cara Rintala if new evidence or new interpretations of forensic evidence come to light, without subjecting her to double jeopardy.
Reassessing the case
Gagne said he was not sure what prosecutors could have done differently to convince a jury, but acknowledged they had a daunting task.
“We can’t ignore the fact we are asking 12 men and women chosen randomly from the community to convict not only a defendant of murder, but a female defendant of murder based almost exclusively on circumstantial evidence,” Gagne said.
“In hindsight, you may decide certain things worked well, certain things could be improved,” Gagne said. “Ultimately, if the decision is made to press the case to trial a third time, we’ll absolutely engage in that process again. I think it would be foolhardy not to.”
Gagne dismissed the defense argument that the investigation was not thorough and ignored other potential suspects.
“There’s only so far that any investigation can go to disprove each and every potential bogeyman who’s out there,” Gagne said. “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.”
Hoose said the fact that two juries have failed to come back with a verdict in the case is something a judge can take into account when considering bail, and is something he hopes the district attorney’s office takes into consideration as well.
“I’m hoping that they’re going to make the decision that they’re not going to go forward with a third prosecution. But if they do, I’m hoping that they will temper that by saying they will not object to Cara being released while that develops,” Hoose said.
Hoose said at this point, if there is going to be a third trial, he has no plans to seek a change of venue for his client.
“I feel confident and comfortable that a Hampshire County jury will eventually acquit in this case, and I feel that it’s appropriate for the case to be heard in Hampshire County,” Hoose said. “We intend to insist on this case being tried in Hampshire County.”
Considering the amount of publicity the two trials have generated, Hoose said, it would be some amount of time before the case could be brought back to trial.
“We have to have a certain amount of time for that to just die down before we can even attempt to pick a Hampshire County jury, and I don’t know how much time that is but it certainly couldn’t be done anytime soon,” Hoose said.
Staff writer Barbara Solow contributed to this report.