UPDATE: Defense rests, lawyers close in Cara Rintala murder trial
Pool photo by Michael S. Gordon/The Republican
Dr. Frederick Bieber testifies Wednesday in the first-degree murder trial of Cara Lee Rintala. The prosecution rested its case Wedneday, and the defense began presenting its case. The jury could begin deliberating Thursday.
Pool photo by Michael S. Gordon/The Republican
Dr. Frederick Bieber, a Harvard Medical School professor and a medical geneticist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, testifies as a defense witness about DNA evidence Wednesday during the Hampshire Superior Court murder trial of Cara L. Rintala. The jury could begin deliberating Thursday.
March 6, 2013 - Northampton, Mass. - Photo by Michael S. Gordon/The Republican - Ludlow firefighter/paramedic Daniel McKenney testifies Wednesday in the case of Cara L. Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court.
March 6, 2013 - Northampton, Mass. - Photo by Michael S. Gordon/The Republican - Lori Souder, senior minister at the First Congregational Church of South Hadley testifies Wednesday in the case of Cara L. Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court.
Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne, standing, presents his case to the jury in the Cara Lee Rintala murder trial on Thursday, March 7, 2013. Seated are Rintala's lawyers, David Hoose, right, and Luke Ryan, left.
NORTHAMPTON — The defense case in the Cara Lee Rintala murder trial rested this morning without Rintala taking the witness stand. Lawyers presented their closing arguments, and jurors are expected to begin deliberating later today.
On Wednesday, after 10 days of testimony, prosecutors in the Hampshire Superior Court trial rested their case. In short order, Judge Mary-Lou Rup denied a request from the defense team to dismiss the murder charge before it ever reaches the jury.
The defense began presenting its case immediately after.
Cara Rintala has pleaded not guilty to a single count of murder in the strangulation and beating death her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in the basement of the couple’s Granby home March 29, 2010.
Immediately after the prosecution rested, the defense team argued for the judge to dismiss the charge, claiming the state hadn’t produced enough evidence to bring the case to the jury.
In denying the defense motion, Rup acknowledged that much of the evidence is circumstantial, but, she said, circumstantial evidence can sometimes support a guilty finding.
Northampton attorney Luke Ryan, part of the defense team, said prosecutors failed to show any forensic evidence linking Cara Rintala to the killing. The small amount of blood evidence that was recovered is “practically irrelevant,” Ryan said.
Ryan said no murder weapon has been produced and the state failed to show how a person who allegedly killed someone with their bare hands could do so without having a mark left on them.
Ryan argued that Cara Rintala had been forthcoming and cooperative with police from the time of the 911 call alerting them to the discovery of Annamarie Rintala’s body in the basement about 7:15 p.m.
Ryan also disputed prosecutors’ ability to show extreme atrocity or cruelty in Annamarie Rintala’s death — which is necessary for a conviction of first-degree murder.
“There’s no evidence that steps beyond what was necessary to end a life were taken,” Ryan said.
First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne argued enough evidence had been presented to merit the case moving forward. He noted that the coroner’s estimated time of death and Cara Rintala’s statements about her day point to her as the last adult to have seen Annamarie Rintala alive.
Gagne said damage to the home’s exterior door suggests either it was done after Annamarie Rintala was already dead or that it was done by someone she knew and let into the house.
The hacking or prying of the door did not succeed in breaking any glass on it or destroying its lock, Gagne said.
Gagne argued that testimony including descriptions of significant hostility between the couple, concerns about custody of their 2-year-old daughter, and financial pressures they were under all provided enough evidence to continue the case.
Gagne said testimony that it requires 4 minutes of continuous pressure to end a life by strangulation shows premeditation, and noted that those 4 minutes represent “decision time” that provided ample opportunity for someone to stop an attack.
Cara Rintala’s lead defense attorney David Hoose began his presentation Wednesday morning with forensic scientist Frederick Bieber to call into question DNA test results presented to jurors by prosecutors earlier in the trial.
Bieber testified specifically about DNA test results that indicated a rag that had tested positive for the likely presence of DNA from Annamarie Rintala.
Bieber said his services had been used to help identify victims of the 9/11 attacks and identifying the remains of soldiers killed in action. He said he reviewed the results of DNA testing done by the state crime lab, but did not do any actual testing himself.
While on the witness stand, Bieber said the sample from the rag was a “textbook example” of a degraded DNA sample. He also said no DNA test could determine if the DNA was from a blood stain or from other types of cells carrying human DNA, like skin cells.
Under questioning by Hoose, Bieber said it appeared from the test results that the DNA sample was not a fresh sample, which brings the time the stain formed into question.
Under cross-examination by Gagne, Bieber said that “fresh” could mean anywhere from a few hours old to a few days old depending on conditions such as heat and moisture.
Gagne has said that even though the sample was degraded, test results showed it tested as a more likely match to Annamarie Rintala’s DNA than other degraded samples of DNA collected from throughout the home.
Bieber said, in his opinion, it did not appear the sample had been mishandled while stored in the state crime lab.
Bieber testified he did not ever take possession of the rag or any other evidence and didn’t have first-hand knowledge of how it was collected or how it was processed and stored.
Three witnesses who knew the couple closed out Wednesday’s testimony: Cara Rintala’s pastor, a fellow parishioner from the First Congregational Church in South Hadley and a former co-worker of hers.
The Rev. Lori Souder said Cara Rintala began attending services with the couple’s daughter beginning in September 2009 and Annamarie joined them about a month later.
Souder said the family attended weekly services and a fellowship hour that followed.
Souder said Cara Rintala told her she wanted to attend in hopes of strengthening their family bonds.
She said during the fellowship hour on March 28, 2010, the family was very excited about letting her and the other parishioners know about a cruise they had recently returned from and showed photos from the trip.
Parishioner Suzanne Cordes said she met the couple in church and recalled seeing the photos and hearing about the cruise during the same March 28 fellowship hour.
Under cross-examination, both women said they were not aware of discord between the women and didn’t know that during a trip to Florida, divorce was discussed by Cara Rintala.
Daniel McKenney, a paramedic with the Ludlow Fire Department, worked on the same crew with Cara Rintala and said the couple seemed happy while attending a road race about two weeks before Annamarie Rintala was killed.
McKenney said under cross-examination that Cara Rintala had to pass basic strength requirements in order to be hired as a paramedic with the Ludlow Fire Department.
Cara Rintala faces life in prison if convicted.
The trial continues today.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .