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Prosecution, defense summarize arguments in first day of Cara Rintala murder trial

  • Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan during a break in the first day of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan during a break in the first day of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Defense attorney David Hoose, left, and First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne chat before the start of the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Defense attorney David Hoose, left, and First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne chat before the start of the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Judge Mary Lou Rup charges the jury for the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    Judge Mary Lou Rup charges the jury for the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Defense attorney David Hoose listens as prosecutor First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his opening statement in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    Defense attorney David Hoose listens as prosecutor First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his opening statement in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne gestures during his opening statement for the prosecution in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne gestures during his opening statement for the prosecution in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his opening statement for the prosecution in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala, with Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Rup, left, presiding,  in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his opening statement for the prosecution in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala, with Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Rup, left, presiding, in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his opening statement for the prosecution in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala, with Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Rup, left, presiding,  in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/><br/>

    First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his opening statement for the prosecution in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala, with Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Rup, left, presiding, in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan before the start of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan before the start of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan before the start of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan before the start of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan during a break in the first day of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan during a break in the first day of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan during a break in the first day of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Defense attorney David Hoose, left, and First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne chat before the start of the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Judge Mary Lou Rup charges the jury for the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • Defense attorney David Hoose listens as prosecutor First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his opening statement in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne gestures during his opening statement for the prosecution in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his opening statement for the prosecution in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala, with Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Rup, left, presiding,  in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his opening statement for the prosecution in the trial of Cara Lee Rintala, with Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Rup, left, presiding,  in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/><br/>
  • Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan before the start of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan before the start of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan during a break in the first day of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

The Hampshire Superior Court trial of Cara Lee Rintala on a single charge of first-degree murder began Thursday before Judge Mary-Lou Rup, and is expected to last for up to a month. After opening arguments, jurors heard from two witnesses and viewed graphic pictures of the crime scene.

First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne, in an opening statement that lasted 40 minutes, painted a picture of a tumultuous relationship racked by animosity and mounting debt.

It was “two and a half extremely turbulent years,” that ended, he said, “on a cold cement floor in a pool of fresh paint and blood.”

He said Cara Rintala killed Annamarie Rintala by strangling and beating her to death, and then attempted to dispose of evidence and stage a break-in at the couple’s Granby home.

Gagne said Annamarie Rintala, 37, had been dead for hours by the time police discovered the killing March 29, 2010.

Cara Rintala, Gagne said, “ended that marriage with her own two hands.”

During Gagne’s opening arguments, particularly when he described her alleged role in the killing, Cara Rintala wept openly, blotting tears with a tissue and leaning over to speak with her defense team.

Gagne described a pair of 911 calls made from the couple’s Barton Street home, one on May 12, 2009, the other two weeks later, that he said demonstrate the level of frustration and animosity between the two in the months leading up to slaying.

The first call was made on the day Cara Rintala filed for divorce; the second call was made the day she was served with divorce papers filed by her wife, Gagne said.

The night before her death, Gagne said, Annamarie Rintala was working an overnight shift as a paramedic for American Medical Response, a Holyoke ambulance company.

Gagne said she became upset because Cara Rintala was home drinking beer and socializing with a friend and sending her persistent text messages telling her to call. One read, “I hate the relationship we have,” Gagne said.

Prosecutors allege Cara Rintala spent time the afternoon of the slaying driving with the couple’s adopted daughter. They allege she attempted to dispose of evidence, including a cleaning rag that tested positive for traces of Annamarie Rintala’s blood.

Gagne said Cara Rintala deliberately tried to conceal the crime by pouring paint over her wife’s body and knocking over items and making a mess in the basement to create the appearance of a break-in.

He said a shovel belonging to the couple was used to make a series of hack marks on a door jamb in an attempt to make it look like someone tried to break in, but there was no damage to the door’s lock.

The shovel had paint residue that matched the paint on the jamb and its blade fit the marks left behind, Gagne said. It was placed back in the spot where it was normally kept, Gagne said.

Gagne said on the day of Annamarie Rintala’s death, she had made almost “nonstop” calls and sent text messages to friends until they abruptly stopped after 12:21 p.m., when she placed a call to her aunt in Florida.

Gagne said that, according to a medical examiner, Annamarie Rintala had been dead for six to eight hours when her body was found by police about 7:12 p.m.

Gagne said the investigation into Annamarie Rintala’s slaying was “exhaustive” and included interviews with friends, a former girlfriend and her daughter’s biological parents, all of whom were cleared as suspects, he said.

“The evidence led back to one person,” Gagne said, indicating Cara Rintala.

Northampton defense attorney David Hoose attacked the police investigation that resulted in his client being charged with murder. During his opening statement, which spanned 45 minutes, Hoose said that despite a 19-month investigation there is scant evidence his client had anything to do with her wife’s death.

“I don’t know who killed Annamarie Rintala,” Hoose said. Pointing at Gagne he added, “He doesn’t know either.”

Hoose reminded jurors that the prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Cara Rintala is guilty. The defendant doesn’t need to prove anything, he said.

“Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the last refuge of an innocent person,” Hoose said.

Hoose disputed the state’s notion that the couple’s $95,000 debt was a motive in the slaying. He said Cara Rintala was the more fiscally responsible of the pair and received no financial gain from her wife’s death.

And, he said, Cara Rintala continued to pay off some of her wife’s bills after her death, at a net loss.

Hoose described Annamarie Rintala as “extremely irresponsible” and “deceitful” in his opening statement, but said the two were very much in love and were trying to reconcile their relationship at the time of the killing.

He criticized the investigation and suggested that, after not finding the culprit, authorities “threw up their hands,” and named Cara Rintala as their one and only suspect.

“We don’t know, so it must have been her,” Hoose said.

He also raised doubts about the alibis of some of the people interviewed, noting some of those interviews didn’t take place until two years after the killing.

Hoose said blood evidence doesn’t connect Cara Rintala to the murder because no one can determine where it came from or when it may have gotten on the items from which it was recovered. Cara Rintala had no injuries, he said, despite Annamarie Rintala’s death being the result of a “violent struggle” with another person.

Hoose said Cara Rintala fully cooperated with authorities from the start of their investigation, including telling them where she had deposited the trash with the cleaning rag containing her wife’s blood.

Hoose minimized the strife in the marriage. Though it was “not rainbows and sunshine,” he said, married couples “quarrel all the time.”

He acknowledged Cara Rintala was arrested and charged with domestic assault and battery against her wife in September 2008 after both women filed complaints against each other with Granby police.

The charge was dropped about a month later at Annamarie Rintala’s request, Hoose said.

Prosecutors allege Cara Rintala harbored resentment about the arrest and that may have been part of her motive to kill her wife.

Witnesses testify

Jurors heard testimony Wednesday from Gary Poehler, the first Granby police officer to arrive at the house after a neighbor called 911 at Rintala’s request. Poehler said he was given the impression by police dispatch that he was responding to a possible domestic assault at the couple’s home.

He arrived and heard crying and yelling from the couple’s basement and found Cara Rintala cradling her wife’s lifeless body in her lap surrounded by a pool of white paint and blood. Cara Rintala was crying hysterically and saying, “She’s dead. I can’t believe she’s dead,” Poehler said.

Poehler said he checked Annamarie Rintala’s pulse and found none. He said her body was cold and rigid.

He said the body was so stiff he needed help from another Granby officer to move it and free Cara Rintala.

Jurors viewed graphic photos of the crime scene showing Annamarie Rintala’s body on her back, with her arms outstretched and bent at the elbows, her face obscured by blood and most of her upper legs and torso covered in paint.

Poehler said Cara Rintala told him the body was found face down and that she rolled it over onto her lap before police arrived.

Cara Rintala wept when the photos were displayed on a large screen, and some members of Annamarie Rintala’s family looked down at the floor, prompted by companions sitting with them.

Poehler said Cara Rintala told police she had come home from shopping with her daughter to find the front door open. Once inside, she could see her wife’s feet through the basement doorway.

She told police she took their daughter and dog and went next door to ask a neighbor to watch them and call 911, according to Poehler.

When Cara Rintala tried to retrieve her wife’s cellphone from the bedroom, Poehler asked her to wait and return to the kitchen while police and paramedics went about their business.

He said Cara Rintala responded, “I understand. I’m the No. 1 suspect.”

While cross-examining Poehler, Hoose suggested the crime scene was compromised by the amount of foot traffic in and out of the house and basement, including paint and blood tracked by emergency personnel’s boots and Cara Rintala’s stockinged feet.

The couple’s neighbor, Roy Dupuis, testified briefly, telling the court that he had come home from work that afternoon and hadn’t seen or heard anything unusual until Cara Rintala arrived at his house about 7:12 p.m.

Dupuis said he and the couple were friendly, and they seemed like a happy family for the most part, although he said Cara Rintala had confided in him that there was tension in the relationship.

The trial continues today.

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

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