Defense rests case in Rintala murder trial

  • Cara Rintala during her fourth murder trial in Hampshire Superior Court earlier this month. The defense rested its case on Tuesday. Closing arguments are set for Wednesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2023 6:15:24 PM
Modified: 9/26/2023 6:14:36 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Cara Rintala’s defense rested its case Tuesday before lunch after calling just two witnesses.

Rintala waived her right to testify in her own defense, a decision that Hampshire Superior Court Judge Francis Flannery found to be “knowing and voluntary” after questioning her outside the jury’s presence.

Rintala, 56, is accused of strangling and beating her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, to death in their Granby home almost 13½ years ago. This is the fourth time she has gone on trial in the murder case.

On Tuesday, pathologist Dr. Jennifer Lipman testified that, based on her review of the autopsy report, crime scene photos and first responders’ statements, she couldn’t rule out the possibility that Cochrane Rintala died after 3 p.m. on March 29, 2010.

Dr. Thomas Andrew, New Hampshire’s former chief medical examiner and the prosecution’s expert witness, testified Monday that it was “not likely at all” that Cochrane Rintala was alive after 1 p.m. that day. This was based in part on first responders’ testimony that her body moved as a unit when they rolled her off her distraught wife’s lap, and other signs of well-developed rigor mortis in the crime scene photos.

The time of death is significant because Rintala told police and others at the scene that she had left the house around 3 p.m. that day and that her wife was still alive then.

Also testifying Tuesday was Daniel McKenney, a firefighter/paramedic with the Ludlow Fire Department, who had worked alongside Cara Rintala. He testified that it was not unusual for firefighters to ignore calls from the department on their days off, and that Rintala was perfectly capable of meeting the physical requirements of the job.

Violent struggle

Under questioning from defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio, Lipman, a former assistant medical examiner for the state, testified that she had been called to determine whether it was possible that Cochrane Rintala died after 3 p.m.

Lipman said there was evidence that she had been engaged in a violent struggle before her death and that this could speed up the process of rigor mortis.

She also testified that Cochrane Rintala’s size, listed on her autopsy report as 5 feet 5 inches tall and 202 pounds, might mean her body stayed warmer longer, which could also speed rigor mortis.

“So, could she have died after 3 p.m?” Scapicchio asked.

“I could not rule that out,” Lipman responded.

Rigor mortis, referring to the gradual stiffening of muscles after death, is not the most reliable means of determining time of death because its onset can be so variable, Lipman said.

On cross-examination, First Assistant District Attorney Steve Gagne challenged Lipman on the materials she had reviewed before reaching her conclusions, suggesting she had only seen what the defense wanted her to see.

Gagne also questioned Lipman about a letter to the district attorney’s office she had helped Scapicchio to write summarizing her testimony.

Noting that Cochrane Rintala was found lying on a cement floor in March wearing minimal clothing, Gagne established that Lipman made no mention, in her letter or her testimony, of cold as a factor in the onset of rigor mortis.

She acknowledged that a cold environment can slow the process.

Gagne also asserted that Lipman’s letter made no mention of obesity as a factor, and asked if Lipman was aware that obesity can slow down the onset of rigor mortis.

Lipman agreed that morbid obesity could have that effect, but she said that did not apply in Cochrane Rintala’s case.

Gagne asked Lipman if she was aware of the abrupt end of Cochrane Rintala’s phone use at 12:21 p.m. on the day of her death.

Lipman countered that she was asked only whether it was possible Cochrane Rintala, based on her well-developed rigor mortis, was alive after 3 p.m.

“I have an opinion, (and that is) you cannot say she was dead before 3,” she said.

Gagne questioned Lipman further on whether she could say how long the physical altercation between Cochrane Rintala and her attacker lasted.

He noted that she had suffered several serious head wounds before death and that the pain could have hindered her ability to fight back.

Lipman said marks on her neck indicated she had struggled to remove the hands around her neck. She disputed Gagne’s suggestion that the marks could just as easily have been made by her assailant, saying such marks were a “recognized sign” of a strangulation victim’s efforts to pry an attacker’s hands from around their neck, and that her own DNA had been found under her fingernails.

But she agreed, as former regional medical examiner Joann Richmond testified earlier, that strangulation can quickly render a victim defenseless.

“A person can lose consciousness in 10 seconds,” Gagne said.

Flannery asked jurors to return Wednesday morning, when closing arguments will be heard.


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