Time of Cara Lee Rintala's death at issue in murder trial
March 1, 2013 - Northampton, Mass. - Photo by Michael S. Gordon/The Republican - Testimony Friday in the case of Cara L. Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court included Tina Gryszowka, left, a DNA analyst at the Mass. state police lab here during questioning by defence lawyer David Hoose. Rintala is accused of killing her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala.
March 1, 2013 - Northampton, Mass. - Photo by Michael S. Gordon/The Republican - Testimony Friday in the case of Cara L. Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court included Tina Gryszowka, a DNA analyst at the Mass. state police lab. Rintala is accused of killing her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala.
March 1, 2013 - Northampton, Mass. - Photo by Michael S. Gordon/The Republican - Medical examiner and forensic pathologist Joann Richmond testifies Friday in the case of Cara L. Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court. Rintala is accused of killing her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala. Richmond said the cause of death was strangulation.
February 22, 2013 - Northampton, Mass. - Photo by Michael S. Gordon/The Republican - Cara L. Rintala watches as the jury enters the Hampshire Superior Courtroom Friday. Rintala is accused of killing her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala.
NORTHAMPTON — A lawyer for Cara Lee Rintala, charged with killing her wife, worked to raise doubts Friday about DNA testing and the accuracy of a coroner’s time of death determination.
David Hoose questioned a state DNA analyst and Dr. Joann Richmond, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, who was found dead in the basement of her Granby home March 29, 2010.
Cara Rintala, 46, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder in connection with her wife’s death. Testimony in her Hampshire Superior Court trial began Feb. 20 and is expected to continue through next week.
Richmond testified the cause of Annamarie Rintala’s death was strangulation and multiple blows to the head.
On the witness stand, Richmond said that, based on her expert opinion and information she was given by police and other first responders, Annamarie Rintala had been dead six to eight hours or more when her body was discovered about 7:15 p.m. March 29, 2010.
Questioned by Hoose, Richmond said she didn’t see Annamarie Rintala’s body until April 1, when she began her autopsy. Richmond said she based her time of death estimate on descriptions from police and EMTs about the stiffness of the body.
Hoose asked if Annamarie Rintala died between 11:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. Richmond declined to provide an exact time, and called determining time of death an “inexact science.”
Hoose said that on Annamarie Rintala’s death certificate, dated April 2, 2010, Richmond listed the approximate time of death as “unknown.” Only after meeting in May 2010 with members of the Northwestern district attorney’s office and state police investigating the case was the time of death estimate established, he said.
Police and first responders who testified described Annamarie Rintala’s body as cold and stiff when they arrived. All of those who testified said they were not certified death scene investigators and did not have training in determining time of death.
Richmond testified that knowing Annamarie Rintala placed a phone call to her aunt in Florida about 12:21 p.m. the day she was killed would not change her opinion about the approximate time of death.
She said the head trauma Annamarie Rintala suffered wasn’t severe enough to cause Annamarie Rintala’s death, but may have caused her to lose consciousness, making it easier for someone to strangle her.
Jurors were shown graphic photos from the autopsy that showed several cuts, scrapes and bruises around Annamarie Rintala’s head.
Richmond said a wound to the back of Annamarie Rintala’s head tore through about a quarter-inch of scalp all the way to the top of her skull.
Jurors saw wounds to both sides of Annamarie Rintala’s head as well as some red scrapes and cuts.
Richmond said she couldn’t determine what had caused those injuries. Based on the autopsy, she said, it appeared Annamarie Rintala was still alive when she suffered the wounds.
Richmond testified that other injuries found on Annamarie Rintala’s body led to the conclusion she had been strangled to death.
“Gouge marks” on Annamarie Rintala’s neck could have been caused by the person who strangled her, or she could have caused them herself if she were struggling to free herself, Richmond said.
Richmond said Annamarie Rintala’s body had 23 bruises, all of which were caused about the same time based on their appearance.
Under cross examination, Richmond said it was possible Annamarie Rintala’s non-strangulation injuries could have been caused by a push or fall down a set of stairs.
Hoose also raised questions about the legitimacy of a test that matched Annamarie Rintala’s DNA profile to a sample from a rag collected from a trash can in a Holyoke McDonald’s restaurant parking lot that Cara Rintala allegedly drove through the day her wife was killed.
Tina Gryszowka, the state DNA analyst who conducted the tests, agreed that a DNA test determines whether there is a match, but doesn’t identify the types of cells the sample comes from.
The sample was likely degraded from being in an open trash can on a rainy day with other items allegedly from the Rintala household and garbage from the restaurant, Gryszowka said.
She also agreed it was possible the results of the DNA test could have been from Annamarie Rintala’s skin cells on the cutting of the rag that was provided, and not from a stain that tested positive for a likely, but not certain, presence of blood.
Gryszowka testified that, based on the samples she was given, blood in the basement of the home matched the DNA profile of Annamarie Rintala.
Samples were taken from several spots on the basement floor, the wall of the staircase into the basement and a shelving unit kept there.
She also testified that hairs found in each of Annamarie Rintala’s hands, on her chin and on her chest all matched Annamarie Rintala’s DNA profile.
A blood sample collected from the liner of the shower curtain in the couple’s home and from a laundry basket in Annamarie Rintala’s car matched Cara Rintala’s DNA, Gryszowka said.
A sample collected from a necklace Cara Rintala was wearing the day her wife was killed also matched her own DNA.
Hoose raised questions whether that match was from blood allegedly swabbed off the necklace or skin cells that would have rubbed off on it normally.
Testimony resumes Monday.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.