UPDATED: Defense begins case in Cara Lee Rintala murder trial
Photo by Michael S. Gordon/The Republican Relatives of slaying victim Annamarie Cochrane Rintala testified Tuesday in the Hampshire Superior Court murder trial of her wife Cara Lee Rintala, who is seen here Feb. 22.
NORTHAMPTON —Prosecutors in the murder trial of Cara Rintala rested their case this morning, and defense attorney David Hoose began presenting his case to the Hampshire Superior Court Jury. Hoose has said he expects to call four or five witnesses today and one final witness Thursday. The case may go to the jury Thusday.
On Tuesday, prosecutors used Cara Rintala’s own words as well as testimony from her wife’s family in an attempt to portray a relationship in turmoil months before Annamarie Cochrane Rintala was strangled to death.
Cara Rintala has pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder in connection with Annamarie Rintala’s death in the basement of their home on Barton Street in Granby on March 29, 2010.
Testimony in her trial began Feb. 20 and may conclude as early as Friday. Cara Rintala faces life in prison if convicted.
Annamarie Rintala’s mother and aunt took the witness stand Tuesday, each breaking down in tears during her testimony.
Lucy Cochrane, Annamarie Rintala’s mother, recounted a phone call she received from Cara Rintala while she and her husband were helping Annamarie Rintala set up an apartment in Hadley when the couple were separated in late summer or early fall of 2009.
Cochrane said her daughter had gone back to the couple’s Barton Street home in Granby to pick up some things when Cara Rintala called and told Cochrane to “Come and get your (expletive) daughter out of my house.” Cochrane described Cara Rintala’s manner on the phone as “frantic” and “yelling.”
Cochrane also described getting a phone call from Cara Rintala about 7:45 p.m. the night of her daughter’s death, breaking the news to her.
Cochrane began sobbing on the stand and Cara Rintala began crying while seated at the defense table during that portion of testimony.
Cochrane said she couldn’t remember any other details from that day apart from the brief call letting her know her daughter had died.
Annamarie Rintala’s aunt, Nancy Kaufman, testified about the tenor of the couple’s relationship when they visited her in Florida in late February 2010.
“It was tense in my home,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman said the couple argued during the trip, including an incident when Cara Rintala allegedly made a disparaging comment about her wife’s body in response to a suggestion they go to the beach and relax.
During the visit, Cara Rintala became upset and told Kaufman that she “couldn’t take this anymore,” and said she wanted a divorce.
Kaufman testified that Cara Rintala unexpectedly called her a few days before her wife’s death, hoping to convince her to talk her niece out of purchasing a second dog because they couldn’t afford it.
Kaufman said she didn’t recognize the number the call was placed from because she had never received a call from Cara Rintala before. Kaufman testified that Cara Rintala told her she had her listed in her phone’s contact under a male pseudonym, but was unable to offer an explanation why.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney David Hoose, Cochrane said she did not know Annamarie Rintala had a second phone account under the name of friend and co-worker Mark Oleksak and that Oleksak had taken out a credit card for her.
Cochrane also testified she wasn’t aware that a former girlfriend of her daughter’s, Carla Daniele of Longmeadow, paid about $10,000 in expenses, including moving expenses, for Annamarie Rintala.
In previous testimony, state police Detective Jamie Magarian said despite allegedly being owed money by Annamarie Rintala, both Oleksak and Daniele were ruled out as suspects after their respective alibis checked out.
Magarian said those alibis held up based on information given to police by Cara Rintala, who said she last saw her wife alive at about 3 p.m. before leaving the house for a few hours the day she died.
Magarian said Daniele was seen on video entering a gym in Longmeadow and leaving about three hours later on the day Annamarie Rintala died, and Oleksak had receipts showing where he was that same afternoon.
Jurors heard a 911 call made by Cara Rintala from the couple’s home on May 26, 2009, the same day she served her wife with divorce papers.
On the 4½ minute call, jurors heard Cara Rintala’s voice, crying and upset saying that she was in fear and had to “walk on eggshells” in the home and how she was worried that her wife was trying to get sole custody of their daughter.
After that call, police went to the home and advised the women they could seek restraining orders against each other, which they went to court that day to do.
Cara Rintala’s portions of that restraining order hearing were played for the jury and the responses from the district court judge who presided over it were read into the record by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Thomas.
In that hearing, Cara Rintala said she had “all that she could take,” and felt she was constantly threatened in her home and was worried her job and custody of their daughter was at stake.
In his response, the judge advised the women to “deal with it” and said if there were more complaints from the pair, he would consider contacting the state Department of Children and Families himself.
“I’ll be on the phone to DCF so fast, they’ll be here before you get out the door,” the judge said before issuing no-abuse restraining orders for each woman.
Jurors heard testimony about Cara Rintala’s arrest on domestic assault and battery charges in September 2008, after Annamarie Rintala lodged a complaint against her with Granby police.
When Cara Rintala arrived at the station to meet with police, she was placed under arrest based on the information Annamarie Rintala had given them.
Granby Police Chief Alan Wishart testified Tuesday that Cara Rintala’s demeanor “flipped” from calm to very aggressive and angry. He said Cara Rintala insisted that she was not going to be arrested, although he acknowledged under cross-examination that wasn’t unusual behavior for a person being placed in custody.
While at the police station, Cara Rintala accused her wife of assaulting her and showed a mark on her neck.
She was granted a restraining order, which was dismissed about two days later. The assault and battery charge against Cara Rintala was dropped in November 2008, according to testimony.
A Granby police dispatcher testified about a 911 hang-up call placed from the couple’s home on May 12, 2009.
Dispatcher Lynn Menard said when she answered the call she could hear screaming in the background for a couple of seconds before the call was disconnected.
When she called back, Menard said a woman answered the phone, identified herself as “Mrs. Rintala” and explained the baby had pulled the phone down, accidently causing it to dial 911, and hit herself in the head with it in the process.
During that call, Menard testified she heard a woman’s voice in the background saying, “Just leave.”
Testimony continues today.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com .