Coroner in Rintala trial: Time of murder no later than 1 p.m.

  • Cara Rintala listens to testimony during her fourth murder trial in Hampshire Superior Court, Sept. 18. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2023 7:39:11 PM
Modified: 9/25/2023 7:38:22 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Prosecutors rested their case Monday afternoon in the murder trial of Cara Rintala after New Hampshire’s former chief medical examiner testified it was “not likely at all” that Annamarie Cochrane Rintala was alive after 1 p.m. on March 29, 2010.

“My review suggests Annamarie died between mid to late morning to early afternoon,” Dr. Thomas Andrew said in response to questioning by First Assistant District Attorney Steve Gagne. “The evidence does not support a time of death later than 1 p.m.”

Andrew said he based his estimate on the body’s “well developed” rigor mortis, established by police and paramedic reports as well as photos from the crime scene and the autopsy.

The time of death is significant because Cara Rintala told other witnesses and State Police in an interview the next day that she had left the house between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. on March 29, and that Annamarie was still alive then.

Defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio suggested to Andrew that records showing Cochrane Rintala last using her phone at 12:21 p.m. meant that 75% of the range of his estimated time of death was “not viable,” and that a violent struggle before death could shorten the time it takes for rigor mortis to set in.

Cara Rintala is on trial for murder for the fourth time in Hampshire Superior Court. She is accused of strangling her wife to death in the basement of their Granby home. The first two trials ended with hung juries, and a conviction in 2016 was overturned on appeal by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Andrew, the commonwealth’s final witness, testified that estimating time of death is not a precise science, and is always expressed as a range.

He said he developed his estimate from the reports of paramedics and police officers who first responded to the home at 18 Barton St. and said the body from the shoulder to the hips “moved as one,” and from images of the hands that remained in the air after the body had been turned over.

Andrew explained that rigor mortis is a chemical reaction that causes muscle fibers to become locked a few hours after death. Post-mortem stiffening of larger muscles in the shoulder and hips is not typically seen in less than six hours, he said.

Other factors such as the temperature — a photo taken in the basement that day showed a thermometer reading 72 degrees — as well as the cold concrete floor, Cochrane Rintala’s minimal clothing and a possible struggle before death, Andrew said, “almost cancel each other out.”

Scapicchio asked Andrew if he changed his estimate after learning that Cochrane Rintala was alive until at least 12:21.

“Why would I do that?” Andrew responded.

Under further questioning, he acknowledged that he has seen rigor mortis set in within minutes of death, and that the isolated use of rigor mortis to establish time of death is not a sound practice.

But he pushed back on the defense attorney’s suggestion that he had not considered outliers in his estimate, saying an outlier has to have an explanation.

“All the things I considered canceled each other out,” Andrew said.

Blood, DNA matches found

Earlier in the day, jurors heard from Tina Gryszowka, a former DNA analyst at the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory, who examined blood and hair samples collected from the basement and from Cochrane Rintala’s body.

Under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Suhl, Gryszowka testified that swabs of blood from the basement stairs, stairway wall and the plastic shelving in the basement all matched Cochrane Rintala’s DNA.

Blood spatter on the basement floor showed some mixture, she said, but the major profile was a match for Cochrane Rintala. There was some additional DNA at one location, she said, but not enough to make a comparison.

Two earrings, one found on a mat at the foot of the stairs and one that Cochrane Rintala’s body had lain on, were tested. Swabs from the posts of both were a match for her DNA, Gryszowka said.

A swab from a backing for one of the earrings found outside by the doormat was inconclusive.

Several hairs removed from Cochrane Rintala’s body and fingernail scrapings taken from her right and left hands matched her DNA, most with high degrees of probability.

Also testifying Monday was Parker Putnam, formerly a drug and trace analyst for the State Police Crime Laboratory.

He testified that wood chips found on the ground outside the side door and on the floor inside came from the door jamb, and that the white material on the shovel matched the paint on the door.

Paint from two items of clothing in evidence matched the paint from the 5-gallon bucket in the basement, he said.

And Trooper Christopher Dolan, who took the police video of the Rintala house, testified on blood and fingerprint evidence at the scene.

After police applied leuco crystal violet to the upstairs floor area, it showed reactions for blood from the entryway through the kitchen to the hallway and in the bathroom. These could not be seen with the naked eye.

“I didn’t observe any reddish-brown stains on the floor,” Dolan said.

Investigators were unable to lift any useful fingerprint impressions from the side door, door jamb, shovel handle, a plastic cup found near the body or a blue vacuum cleaner from the basement.

However, they uncovered a partial palm print from the lid of the 5-gallon paint bucket in the basement. Dolan testified it was his opinion the print was a match for Cara Rintala’s right palm.

Prosecutors claim Rintala dumped the paint over her wife’s body and the basement floor to contaminate the crime scene just before police arrived that night. She told police during her initial interview that she didn’t know where the paint came from.

Testimony from defense witnesses begins Tuesday.


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