Evidence debated in Cara Lee Rintala murder case
2-5-13 - Northampton - Republican staff photo by Don Treeger- Cara Rintala sits in Hampshire Superior Court during a pre-trial hearing in her murder case.
NORTHAMPTON — A judge will decide how much evidence jurors will get to hear about Cara Lee Rintala’s rocky marriage in her upcoming murder trial.
After hearing from prosecutors and defense attorneys Tuesday, Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup deferred ruling on how many details of the marital strife will be admissible in the trial, set to begin with jury selection Monday.
Rintala, 46, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, 37, in the couple’s Barton Street home in Granby on March 29, 2010.
Rup also took under advisement a motion about the admissibility of blood evidence recovered from the couple’s home, Cara Rintala’s necklace and a laundry basket.
Rintala’s defense attorney, David Hoose of Northampton, attempted unsuccessfully to have Tuesday’s hearing closed to the press and public.
The Daily Hampshire Gazette and The Republican of Springfield both filed formal objections to closing the hearing.
Hoose argued that details of evidence that would likely come up in the hearing, some of which may never be presented at trial, could potentially corrupt a jury.
“There will be an inevitable spillover effect to the jury pool,” Hoose said.
First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne said taking an extra day or two to select a jury would be a small price to pay to keep the court open.
Gagne called open court a “cherished right” and said closing the hearing would deny access to members of the public with a vested interest in the outcome of the trial, including members of Annamarie Rintala’s family, who were present in the courtroom.
Rup agreed, saying none of the pre-trial coverage she’s seen up to this point has been prejudicial or inflammatory, and most of the information about which Rintala’s defense team raised concerns had already been touched on in earlier media coverage.
Rup is also considering a defense motion that would acknowledge to the court that the Rintalas’ relationship was rocky but prohibit counsel from going into detail about the couple contemplating divorce, filing restraining orders against each other and Cara Rintala’s arrest on a charge of domestic assault and battery against her wife.
Annamarie Rintala dropped the assault and battery charge about a month after it was filed, Gagne said.
Hoose argued that the introduction of so-called “prior bad acts” as evidence could distract the jury from other, more relevant evidence, including forensics.
In contrast, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jennifer Suhl said details about specific incidents would lend weight to the state’s assertion that the relationship was troubled and would illustrate Cara Rintala’s state of mind and motives in the months and weeks leading up to the death of her wife.
Suhl said dual filings for divorce, Rintala’s arrest, a “race to the police station” between both women to file competing restraining orders against each other and testimony about arguments between the couple all had value as evidence and should be heard by a jury.
Those incidents occurred between September 2008 and early March 2010, Suhl said, and show a pattern of continuing hostility between the couple.
Rup also deferred ruling on how much information about blood evidence recovered around the home would reach a jury.
According to both legal teams, drops of Cara Rintala’s blood were recovered from a necklace she wore, the shower curtain in the couple’s home, and a laundry basket in Annamarie Rintala’s van.
Hoose argued the blood doesn’t link his client to the killing, calling it “the rankest of speculation” to attempt to do so.
Hoose said Cara Rintala had no injuries or wounds on her body that would suggest she was hurt during a struggle and that the tub the shower curtain was attached to tested negative for traces of blood.
An autopsy determined Annamarie Rintala was strangled and beaten to death.
Gagne said the amount of blood, where it was found and the state of the couple’s home all suggested there was an effort made to clean up the home and stage a break-in.
Gagne said that in the hours before Cara Rintala called police after finding her wife’s body, she made several stops by car, including one to a McDonald’s restaurant parking lot in Holyoke where she allegedly dumped some items in the trash, one of which was a rag that allegedly tested positive for Annamarie Rintala’s DNA.
“These are the bread crumbs she left that lead back to her,” Gagne said about the blood evidence.
Rup denied a motion to have admitted as evidence a work jacket that belonged to Annamarie Rintala, which investigators recovered from a Granby landfill.
Both women worked as EMTs, Cara Rintala for the Ludlow Fire Department, Annamarie for American Medical Response in Holyoke.
Hoose argued the jacket had no value as evidence and that there was no indication who threw it out. Gagne said it demonstrated a lack of remorse on Cara Rintala’s part.
Rup also said no financial records for the couple could be entered into evidence without testimony from the person responsible for keeping those records.
Gagne said the records show the couple was about $95,000 in debt and that would support the notion that the relationship was under a great deal of strain.
Hoose said there’s no way to vouch for the accuracy of the records without the testimony of someone accountable for them, even if it means subpoenaing them from out of state.
He said characterizing the debt as shared was also inaccurate, claiming that debt was Annamarie Rintala’s alone.
Rup decided Hoose could refer to the 18-month time span between the slaying and Cara Rintala’s arrest, but she will decide later what to tell the jury about what they might infer from that information.
Gagne said there is no connection between the length of an investigation and the strength of a case, and focusing on that would open “a can of irrelevant worms,” that would sidetrack a jury.
Rintala was arrested in Rhode Island Oct. 19, 2011, after being indicted on the murder charge by a Hampshire County grand jury earlier the same day.
About 30 to 35 witnesses are expected to testify at the trial, which could last up to a month, Gagne said.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.