Forensic scientists detail blood, hair evidence
Cara Lee Rintala talks with defense attorney Luke Ryan before the start of her trial in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. She is charged with murder in the first degree in the death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in Granby in 2010.
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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. Purchase photo reprints »
Defense attorney David Hoose, left, and First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne chat before the start of the trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
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NORTHAMPTON — Jurors in the trial of Cara Rintala, accused of murdering her wife three years ago in Granby, spent much of Tuesday morning hearing details about the collection of evidence from the couple’s Barton Street home in the days after Annamarie Rintala’s death.
Cara Rintala, 46, has pleaded not guilty in Hampshire Superior Court to a single charge of murder in the strangulation and beating death of her wife March 29, 2010. The trial began Feb. 20 and is expected to last up to three more weeks.
She faces life in prison if convicted.
In testimony Tuesday, Caroline Tatro, a forensic scientist with the state police crime lab, spent about three hours describing the process used to test, collect and process various pieces of evidence recovered from the home at 18 Barton St.
A necklace allegedly worn by Cara Rintala the night of her wife’s death was collected by police that night and tested positive for the presence of blood, Tatro said.
Tatro took the witness stand Monday afternoon, and concluded her testimony Tuesday.
Also taking the witness stand Tuesday was fellow forensic scientist Jennifer Preisig, who entered the residence March 30 to collect and test evidence. The body remained in the house while officials waited for a judge to grant a search warrant.
Once inside, Tatro said, she and her team collected hair found on the left and right hands and the chest of Annamarie Rintala’s body. Tatro said after examination, those hairs appeared to have been in the “active growing” phase of their life cycle, meaning they wouldn’t have fallen out without some outside action like brushing or getting caught on clothing or jewelry.
Jurors saw close-up photos of Annamarie Rintala’s hands and chest that each show several strands of hair.
Other hairs found stuck to the weather stripping on a side door were collected for evidence as well, but Tatro said those hairs were in a later phase of growth and could have fallen out on their own.
Tuesday’s testimony did not reveal whose hairs they were.
Fingernail scrapings taken from Annamarie Rintala’s hands tested positive for blood, Tatro said.
Tatro also described several reddish-brown stains found in different areas of the house, including the basement where Annamarie Rintala’s body was found covered with paint and stained with blood.
Photos taken in the basement show reddish-brown stains on several of the steps leading out of the basement and a group of three “finger swipe” stains and a “transfer stain” on the walls of the stairwell.
Those stains tested positive for the presence of blood, Tatro testified.
Tatro said testing on stains found on a shower curtain in the couple’s bathroom, the steps leading to the basement and the wall of the stairwell, a vacuum cleaner on the basement floor and on a shelving unit in the basement all tested positive as blood.
A positive result from preliminary testing will not guarantee the substance is blood, nor will it identify from whom it came or if the blood is even human, Preisig said in court.
Preisig testified that some of the rags and cloths she was sent to the house to collect for evidence had been taken to the home and left there instead of sent directly to a crime lab and were kept out in the open on a sheet of butcher paper.
Under cross examination by Cara Rintala’s defense attorney David Hoose, Preisig said the process used to determine if blood is present can sometimes produce “false positive” results and can be affected by certain types of fruits, cleaning products like bleach and certain metals. Also under cross examination, Preisig testified that heat and humidity can degrade DNA samples.
Most of the samples tested were submitted for further DNA testing, Tatro said. Results of those tests were not part of Tuesday’s testimony.
Tests conducted on parts of the exterior and interior and the bed of Cara Rintala’s truck came back negative for the presence of blood, Tatro said.
Tatro also examined a shovel kept outside of the home’s garage that had a white residue on its blade and handle and cuts into the wooden door jamb of the home and woodchips on the welcome mat outside of the door.
The shovel tested negative for the presence of blood, as did a hammer, a set of work gloves and a frying pan kept in the couple’s home, Tatro said.
The trial continues today with more testimony from Tatro.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.