Jury selection begins in Cara Lee Rintala murder case
FILE PHOTO Jury selection began Monday in Hampshire Superior Court for the murder trial of Cara Lee Rintala. Five jurors were selected. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — It may be two days or more before a full jury is selected in the murder trial of Cara Lee Rintala, in part because of last week’s snowstorm.
Five jurors — three women and two men — were selected Monday from a pool of about 76.
Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup said the snowstorm and its lingering effects kept about 25 potential jurors from being able to get to the courthouse Monday.
Rintala, 46, has pleaded not guilty to murdering her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, 37, at the couple’s Barton Street home in Granby on March 29, 2010.
Rup said at the conclusion of Monday’s session there would be a pool of 50 potential jurors today.
She said she is “not confident” that the remaining 11 slots would be filled by the close of business Tuesday, pushing selection into Wednesday or Thursday.
The court is seeking 12 jurors and four alternates to sit for the case, which may last up to four weeks.
It may be that length of time that prohibits people from being able to serve on the jury. About 41 members of the jury pool said they had professional or personal obligations that would prevent them from serving for the length of the trial.
Potential jurors were also asked if the facts that the Rintalas were a same-sex married couple and had adopted a daughter would prevent them from trying the case fairly, among other questions.
Jury selection is scheduled to resume this morning.
Cochrane Rintala’s body was discovered in the basement of her home after a 911 call made about 7:12 p.m. alerted police.
According to the state medical examiner, Cochrane Rintala died by strangulation and blows to her head.
The case gained notoriety after Jane Doe Inc., a Massachusetts-based anti-domestic violence coalition, labeled it the first alleged homicide in the state involving a same-sex married couple.
At the time of the slaying, both women were working as EMTs, Rintala for the Ludlow Fire Department and Cochrane Rintala for American Medical Response in Holyoke.
The couple was married in Provincetown on Aug. 8, 2007.
At a recent court hearing, Rintala’s defense attorney, David Hoose of Northampton, acknowledged that the relationship between the two was rocky at times.
Court records show the couple had filed for divorce in the spring of 2009. Rintala filed on May 12 and Cochrane Rintala filed one week later.
Rintala, though, had her case dismissed about three months later. Cochrane Rintala’s case was dismissed Dec. 24, 2009.
According to court files, the couple had gone far enough in the separation process to arrange a parenting schedule for their daughter and payments Cochrane Rintala would make toward car insurance, child support and a bank loan.
Cochrane Rintala had originally agreed to move out of the couple’s home by Aug. 31, 2009, if the couple were to continue divorce proceedings, according to court records.
Prosecutors said they plan to present the competing divorce filings and other evidence of discord in the home to demonstrate Rintala’s state of mind and possible motive for murder.
Evidence of the women filing restraining orders against each other and what prosecutors called “a race to the police station” in September 2008 to file domestic assault charges against each other will also be presented at trial.
That “race” eventually led to Rintala being arrested on a charge of domestic assault and battery. Cochrane Rintala dropped the charge about a month later, according to First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne.
Prosecutors allege Rintala harbored resentment over the arrest, even bringing it up unprompted while being interviewed by police following the discovery of Cochrane Rintala’s body.
Rup ruled other evidence of strain in the marriage may be introduced at trial. It includes a disconnected 911 call during which arguing between the couple could be heard and statements from Cochrane Rintala’s aunt about the nature of the couple’s relationship.
Rup’s written ruling states that jurors may hear about any of these matters as long as their purpose in the trial is to “show motive, state of mind and/or intent of the defendant.”
She also ruled that jurors will receive instructions about the limited purposes for which they can consider that evidence.
Prosecutors will also introduce blood evidence recovered from in and around the couple’s home, which they allege implicates Rintala in the slaying.
Gagne argued that Rintala’s blood evidence was among “bread crumbs she left that lead back to her.”
Hoose maintains drops of blood found on the couple’s shower curtain, on a necklace Rintala wore and on a laundry basket in Cochrane Rintala’s van do not implicate his client. He said it would be the “rankest of speculation” to attempt to do so.
Hoose pointed out Rintala had no wounds or cuts that would suggest she had been in a struggle and that the tub the shower curtain was attached to tested negative for traces of blood.
Prosecutors allege Rintala committed the murder, cleaned up the basement, staged a break-in and left the home for several hours before returning and calling 911.
Gagne alleges that during that period, Rintala tried to dispose of evidence, including a rag that tested positive for Cochrane Rintala’s blood.
Gagne said Rintala was seen on surveillance video leaving the rag in a trash can in a McDonald’s restaurant parking lot in Holyoke.
Hoose has said Rintala adamantly denies killing her wife.
Rintala sold the Granby house and moved to Rhode Island about six months after the murder.
She was indicted by a Hampshire County grand jury Oct. 19, 2011, and was arrested a short time later.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Rintala faces life in prison without parole.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.