Granby woman knew her killer, defense says as 3rd Rintala murder trial starts

  • Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup speaks during the first day of the third murder trial of Cara Lee Rintala in Northampton. Rintala is accused of killing her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in the couple’s former Granby home in 2010. Two earlier trials resulted in mistrials in 2013 and 2014.  —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cara Lee Rintala seated in Hampshire Superior Court on the first day of her murder trial. Rintala is accused of killing her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, in the couple’s former Granby home in 2010. Two earlier trials resulted in mistrials in 2013 and 2014. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cara Lee Rintala sits with her defense team of Luke Ryan, center, and David Hoose, while Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jennifer Suhl makes her opening statement for the commonwealth in the murder trial of Rintala in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jennifer Suhl speaks in Hampshire Superior Court on the first day of Cara Rintala’s third murder trial Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING—

@mjmajchrowicz
Published: 9/14/2016 2:38:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Annamarie Cochrane Rintala knew her killer. Of that much, the defense attorney was certain.

“There’s no question,” attorney David Hoose told a Hampshire Superior Court jury Wednesday during opening statements. But the person responsible, he contends, is not Cara Lee Rintala, who’s on trial — a third time — for her wife’s murder.

Cara Rintala, who has maintained her innocence throughout, already has been tried twice in this court for the crime. Both resulted in mistrials, in 2013 and 2014, which stemmed from deadlocked juries. The trial is expected to last four to five weeks.

Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jennifer Suhl painted a haunting scene for jurors — describing Annamarie tumbling down her basement stairs, followed by Cara descending those stairs, wrapping her hands around the stunned woman’s throat and “squeezing and squeezing and squeezing,” until she died.

“She was murdered by the very person who was supposed to love and care for her — her own wife, the defendant, Cara Lee Rintala,” Suhl said. “Her last precious breaths were taken with the defendant’s hands around her neck.”

Regardless of who killed Annamarie, Hoose said, she “fought for her life,” before she tumbled down the steep flight of basement stairs.

“We are never going to know exactly what happened at that door,” he said.

Annamarie was found strangled to death at the bottom of those stairs — her face and neck badly bruised, a coat of paint poured over her body — in the Granby home she shared with Cara.

That day in March 2010, emergency officials arrived on the scene to find Cara cradling her wife’s body.

Granby Police Sgt. Gary Poehler, the first to testify Wednesday, came down the basement stairs. He placed his fingers on Annamarie’s neck, feeling for a pulse — nothing. He looked at the “cold,” “stiff” body, with dried blood in her nostrils and on her hands, her elbows at 90 degrees. The paint on Annamarie’s body and the area surrounding her was still wet, he testified.

After helping Cara up from the floor, and after instructing her not to touch anything when she told Poehler she wanted to retrieve Annamarie’s phone from her room, Cara said something that struck investigators:

“I understand I’m the No. 1 suspect,” she said, according to Poehler’s testimony.

“It’s just important for us to find out what happened,” he recalled telling her.

However, Cara’s defense said the odds were stacked against her from the get-go.

“Unconscious bias,” Hoose called it, adding that investigators pigeon-holed themselves into entertaining the thought of Cara as a suspect because first responders were initially told they were tending to a “domestic” situation. In that case, Hoose told the jury, investigators failed to genuinely consider other suspects.

Through her defense, Cara has contended in previous trials that she last saw her wife alive around 3 p.m. the day she died. She wanted to let her sleep after having worked an overnight shift as a paramedic. Then Cara took their daughter, who was 2 years old at the time, on a series of errands and returned in the early evening.

Suhl told jurors that the 3 o’clock indication was crucial — because medical examiners say Annamarie was killed sometime before that time. Conversely, Hoose said he planned to present testimony that would indicate time of death rulings are typically approximations.

Beyond hearing each attorney’s opening statements, the jurors went on a virtual tour of the home Cara and Annamarie shared, via a video that was shot by Massachusetts State Police.

The video, Poehler said, was filmed the morning of March 30, 2010. But the house, and everything inside of it, was noticeably frozen in March 29: the kitchen chairs still pulled out from the table, a child’s paintings still on the refrigerator, Annamarie’s body still on the basement floor.

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


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