Handling of potential evidence at issue in Rintala murder trial

  • Defense attorney David Hoose walks up to cross examine a witness during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Thursday Sept. 22, 2016 in Northampton. — Andrew J. Whitaker / Gazette Staff

  • First assistant northwestern district attorney Steven E. Gagne reads recoded text messages as Massachusetts State Trooper David Swan (not pictured) reads aloud during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker / Gazette Staff

  • Cara Rintala listens during her trial in Hampshire Superior Court Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in Northampton. — Andrew J. Whittaker / Gazette Staff

Published: 9/23/2016 3:58:03 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As experts from the State Police Crime Laboratory offered testimony Friday, the defense team in the third Cara Rintala murder trial zeroed in on untested potential evidence from the crime scene.

Rintala has pleaded not guilty in Hampshire Superior Court to the March 2010 strangling death of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala. Rintala already has been tried twice for the crime, with both trials ending with deadlocked juries. This trial, which is expected to last through the month, is scheduled to resume Monday morning.

First-responders arrived at the Rintalas’ home at 18 Barton St. in Granby to find Rintala cradling Cochrane Rintala’s body at the bottom of their basement stairs. The body was bloodied and covered in paint.

Jennifer Preisig, who was the supervisor on call for the crime scene response team, testified there were various stains near the body that were not collected or tested.

Defense attorney David Hoose asked whether this was the case with red-brown stains seen on a rug near Cochrane Rintala’s body. The jury was shown photos of that rug.

Preisig said they were not tested because it was not reasonable to test every single stain at the scene. The objective, she and other forensic experts have testified, is to test a representative sample of the area in question.

Preisig also testified about the patterns of the possible blood at the scene. For instance, she said bloodstains on a nearby shelving unit were indicative of a swiping motion — she demonstrated by wiping the flat of her hand against the witness stand.

Also nearby was what appeared to be a blood spatter stain on the cement floor protruded outward, which means the blood was not wiped, Preisig testified.

Prosecutors allege that Rintala killed her wife, dumped paint on the body to contaminate physical evidence and then hacked away at the front door with a shovel to make it appear that there was a forced entry.

Earlier Friday, Trooper Todd Girouard, also of the State Police Crime Laboratory, testified the scene did not seem like a forced entry and that the hack marks appear to have been made while the door was open.

As evidenced from crime scene photos and previous testimony, this was the same door investigators used to enter the home.

Hoose asked if it was standard practice for authorities to establish a different point of entry other than one where a break-in may have occurred.

Girouard said that was the protocol, but that he and others entered that way at the Rintalas’ house regardless.

Girouard also testified he did not file a report at the time — which Hoose contended was another breach of state police protocol.

The 911 call

A former next-door neighbor of the Rintalas took the stand Friday morning, telling prosecutors he had been home most of the afternoon the day of the Cochrane Rintala’s death, but had not noticed anything out of the ordinary.

Roy Dupuis, who is now retired in Florida with his wife Barbara, was the first witness presented by the defense team.

While the prosecution has not yet rested its case, Dupuis’ testimony was allowed Friday because of a conflict with his availability during the trial, Judge Mary-Lou Rup told jurors.

Dupuis testified that on March 29, 2010, he and his wife were watching television around 7 p.m. in his basement when he heard knocking upstairs. At the front door was Rintala with her then-2-year-old daughter Brianna and their chocolate Labrador retriever, Shark.

“We noticed she didn’t have a collar on, and that was unusual,” Dupuis said.

Shark scurried into the home, Dupuis added, as Rintala handed over Brianna to him.

“Call 911, Anne’s in the basement,” Rintala told him frantically, he recalled. That’s when she started back toward her home.

Jurors heard that 911 call.

“My neighbor just came over, and she told me to call 911, and she brought her daughter over,” Dupuis told the dispatcher.

“Do you know what the problem is?” the dispatched inquired.

“I have no idea,” Dupuis replied. “She said something about her, uh — they’re married, she said the other one was down in the basement.”

“Maybe domestic?” the dispatcher asked.

“I have no idea, she just brought her daughter over here,” Dupuis said.

Upon cross-examination, First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne asked Dupuis whether he knew that the Rintalas were having marital troubles.

Dupuis testified that Cara Rintala had, at one point the summer before the murder, told him the couple was considering separating. Dupuis also said that he had observed a police cruiser in their driveway in May that same year as well as both women speaking with police officers in front of their home.

When Rintala was at your front door March 29, Gagne asked, “Did she ever express to you she feared someone was inside the house?”

Dupuis said Rintala did not.

“She never asked you to call an ambulance?” Gagne asked.

“No,” Dupuis responded.

Gagne pointed out that Dupuis is licensed to carry and keeps a firearm in his home, and asked whether Rintala requested he come over with the weapon as an added measure of caution.

“That’s not my job,” Dupuis said.

Gagne then said that Dupuis, at the time, owned a cat named Max. In court Thursday, the defense raised the question of cat hairs that were found on Cochrane Rintala’s hands and body and noted that the family did not have a cat at the time.

Dupuis testified that the last time the Rintalas had a cat was before 2007, which was the year they adopted their daughter.

“You had nothing to do with Anne’s death, did you?”

Dupuis leaned over from the witness stand, slightly raising his voice: “You’re not serious, are you?”

“Sir, I have to ask,” Gagne said.

“No, I did not,” Dupuis said.

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at mmajchrowicz@gazettenet.com.

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