Editorial: Mistrial not a failure
03/13/13-Northampton-Staff photo by Dave Roback-From the Wednesday session of the Cara Rintala trial which was a mistrial. Here is Judge Mary-Lou Rupp announcing a mistrial. Purchase photo reprints »
Robin Whitney, a Massachusetts State Police detective, First Assistant Northestern District Attorney Steven Gagne and Assistant Nortwestern District Attorney Jennifer Suhl hold a press conference after the jury deadlocked in the Cara Rintala murder trial. Purchase photo reprints »
Pool photo The Republican
Defense attorney David Hoose, left, and First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne listen to Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rupp after jurors revealed they could not reach a verdict in the Cara Rintala murder trial.. Purchase photo reprints »
POOL PHOTO THE REPUBLICAN
Defense attorney David Hoose watches the jury come in to the courtroom after 25 hours of deliberations. Purchase photo reprints »
POOL PHOTO THE REPUBLICAN
Cara Rintala in court Wednesday, the day jurors informed the judge they could not reach a verdict. Purchase photo reprints »
03/13/13-Northampton-Staff photo by Dave Roback-From the Wednesday session of the Cara Rintala trial which was a mistrial. Here is steven gagne during a press conference after the trial. Purchase photo reprints »
Only the 12 jurors who deliberated on the Cara Lee Rintala case know what went on in that jury room to prevent them from reaching consensus on a verdict in the murder trial.
The Hampshire Superior Court trial of Cara Rintala ended in mistrial Wednesday. She is charged with killing her wife, Annamarie Rintala, on March 29, 2010, in the couple’s Barton Street home in Granby.
This conclusion is frustrating for all involved: For Judge Mary-Lou Rup, who presided over the trial and pre-trial hearings over the past 17 months; for the defense team and for the prosecution; for the defendant herself and her family; and also for the family of Annamarie Rintala. It may have been most frustrating of all for the jury, 16 people who showed up in court day after day and listened to testimony that was alternately painful, gruesome, tedious, detailed and traumatic.
A mistrial is vague, creates confusion and leaves many unanswered questions. And yet it is a legitimate part of our criminal justice system.
Sometimes, despite their best efforts, juries simply cannot reach a unanimous verdict. We believe it is better for a trial to end in mistrial than for a jury to arrive at a verdict only after some jurors cave in on their true beliefs.
While frustrating, a case that ends in a mistrial, in the long run, may be the best outcome. There is no doubt this jury took its duty very seriously. Jurors deliberated with care and concern, knowing the fate of one person’s life — Cara Lee Rintala — was in their hands. They also knew that justice for Annamarie Rintala was in their hands.
That is a huge responsibility.
During a trial that began Feb. 20 and wrapped up March 7, jurors heard testimony from 25 to 30 witnesses and looked at hundreds of pieces of evidence, including graphic photographs of the homicide scene, a coroner’s report, and a two-hour interview of Cara Rintala by police investigators. They listened to 90 minutes of precise legal instructions by Rup, during which she offered them guidance, specific information about what juries can and cannot do, and an explanation of the legal concept of reasonable doubt, a cornerstone of our criminal justice system.
Rintala’s legal team told jurors that she was the victim of an inept investigative team of police who jumped to conclusions about her guilt without the benefit of hard evidence.
The prosecution, while admitting evidence against Rintala was circumstantial, declared it was enough to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor reminded jurors that beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond any doubt at all.
The 16 jurors heard complicated testimony from dozens of witnesses — some of them experts and some of them broken-hearted family members — along with well-crafted statements from attorneys on both sides, and listened to detailed instructions from the presiding judge. Then, 12 of them went into a deliberation room to hash out the details, the evidence, the issues and the legal concepts that were supposed to lead to either a conviction or an acquittal.
The dozen deliberating jurors worked together for 30 hours over five days. Two times they sought guidance from Rup, essentially alerting her they may have difficulty reaching a unanimous verdict.
Twice she sent them back, urging them to keep trying. She told them no other 12 people could do any better.
When they returned a third time, they said they were unanimous in the belief that they were so hopelessly deadlocked there was no possible path to conviction or acquittal. That is when Rup declared a mistrial.
On March 25, Cara Rintala and her defense team and the prosecution will be back in court to argue bail and make plans for trial. It might seem like deja vu.
It’s not. It is back to square one.
It is unfortunate that the jurors could not reach agreement, but it is not a failure. Juries deadlock. That is part of the process within our criminal justice system, one of several pieces of an insurance policy that seeks to prevent the guilty from going free and the innocent from being sent to prison.