Police work, debt raised as issues in Cara Lee Rintala murder trial
First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne delivers his opening statement in the murder trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Feb. 20. Financial records show that victim Annamarie Cochrane Rintala was about $34,000 in debt when she was killed in 2010. Gagne said the prosecution maintains debt could be a possible motive in the slaying. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — The lawyer for Cara Lee Rintala attempted to raise doubts in Hampshire Superior Court Monday about the thoroughness of the state’s investigation into her wife’s killing.
Cara Rintala, 46, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder in connection with the strangling and beating death of Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, 37, in the basement of the couple’s Barton Street home in Granby on March 29, 2010.
Also in court Monday, jurors heard testimony from State Police Detective Jamie Magarian about the couple’s debts and financial struggles. According to one witness, the financial records of Annamarie Cochrane Rintala revealed she was about $34,000 in debt when she was killed. Magarian was the only witness to testify Monday.
In his opening argument Feb. 20, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne told jurors the prosecution maintains the couple’s debt was a possible motive for the slaying.
According to Gagne, the couple’s combined debt was about $95,000 and exceeded the $86,000 Cara Rintala had available in a retirement account around the time of her wife’s death.
Cara Rintala faces life in prison if convicted. Testimony in the trial is expected to continue through the week. The case could go to the jury as early as Friday.
Cara Rintala’s attorney David Hoose questioned Magarian, the lead investigator, as to why potential witnesses weren’t more closely scrutinized.
Hoose asked Magarian why Mark Oleksak of Westfield, a close friend and co-worker of Annamarie Rintala’s, wasn’t investigated further after it was revealed he allegedly lied to police about where he was the day of her death.
According to Magarian, Oleksak had originally told police he was home most of the day on March 29, 2010, after a physical therapy appointment and a brief stop at a hardware store.
Police interviewed Oleksak again after they received information that he had allegedly been sleeping in a sleeping bag that had belonged to Annamarie Rintala.
Magarian said that after reviewing financial records and interviewing Oleksak’s wife and daughter, police learned that Oleksak had made several stops the day of Annamarie Rintala’s death that he hadn’t told police about.
Magarian said Oleksak made a stop at a bank, a gas station, two supermarkets, and a Wal-Mart in Westfield where, according to a store receipt, he purchased a $7 pair of fleece pants at 4:28 p.m.
Magarian said from the witness stand that he did not inquire why Oleksak purchased the pants, and that the follow-up interviews hadn’t been done until May 2012. By that time, some of the financial information from the stores Oleksak allegedly visited was no longer available.
Magarian said Oleksak was not considered a suspect because his alibi 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 also told jurors that about $22,000 of Annamarie Rintala’s debt had been declared past due or sent to collection agencies by creditors.
Annamarie Rintala took home about $33,600 per year from her job as a paramedic with American Medical Response in Holyoke, Magarian said.
Magarian said Monday there was also debt in the household carried by Cara Rintala, including the mortgage on the couple’s Barton Street home of about $100,000, a $26,000 auto loan, and a bank loan of approximately $21,000.
Scheduled payments on those loans totaled about $1,950 per month, Magarian said. Cara Rintala’s pre-tax income from the town of Ludlow, where she worked as a paramedic for the fire department, was about $70,000 per year, said Magarian.
Hoose has maintained throughout the trial that the two women kept their finances separate.
Magarian testified that many valuable items, including a pair of flat-screen televisions, tools, golf clubs, purses, and a portable lockbox were all still in the home after Annamarie Rintala’s death.
Under cross-examination by Hoose, Magarian said he did not personally open the lockbox nor did he inventory jewelry boxes in the home and couldn’t say if there was anything stored inside them, nor if anything had been taken from inside them.
Magarian also testified that Annamarie Rintala had gotten Oleksak to open up a $7,000 line of credit she had access to and had gotten him to lend her $350 for a puppy and another $20 for a dog crate a few days before she died.
There was no evidence either item was ever purchased, Magarian said.
The trial continues Tuesday.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com .