Determining time of death remains contentious in Cara Rintala trial

  • Suzanne Cordes takes the stand during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Attorney Luke Ryan cross examines Lori Souder during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • First assistant northwestern district attorney Steven E. Gagne, right, shows evidence to Anna Arciszewski, left, during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jennifer Suhl hands over evidence to Dr. Fredrick Robert Bieber, left, during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Attorney Luke Ryan speaks to Defense attorney David Hoose during her trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Cara Rintala stands during her trial in Hampshire Superior Court, Wednesday, in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW J. WHITAKER

  • A photo of Annamarie Cochrane Rintala and her daughter Brianna during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • An Easter photo of Cara Rintala, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala and there daughter Brianna is presented during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Dr. Edward McDonough is brought to the stand during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Cara Rintala listens during her trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Dr. Fredrick Robert Bieber looks over a chart during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven E. Gagne holds up a chart of phone calls and text messages to Dr. Edward McDonough during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court, Wednesday, in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW J. WHITAKER

  • Defense attorney David Hoose, right, cross examines Dr. Fredrick Robert Bieber, left, during the Cara Rintala trial in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF

@mjmajchrowicz
Published: 9/28/2016 3:02:48 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Determining a time of death for Annamarie Cochrane Rintala remains among the most contentious issues of the third murder trial for her wife Cara Rintala.

There were no eyewitnesses, and so far none of the witnesses’ testimony has been precise about when Cochrane Rintala was actually killed. Instead, experts are left to make their independent determinations after examining case records.

Rintala, who has pleaded not guilty in Hampshire Superior Court to her wife’s strangulation death, has been tried twice before. Both trials, in 2013 and 2014, resulted in deadlocked juries.

On Wednesday, the second day of defense testimony, retired forensic pathologist Edward McDonough told jurors he had doubts about the investigators’ and the medical examiner’s methods used to determine a possible range for her time of death.

Joann Richmond, the retired medical examiner who performed the autopsy, previously testified that she believed Cochrane Rintala had been dead six to 12 hours before her body was found on March 29, 2010, at the bottom of the basement stairs in the Granby home the Rintalas shared.

Richmond’s testimony was central to the prosecution’s argument, because Rintala told police that she last saw her wife alive at 3 p.m. when Rintala left their home that day to run errands with their then 2-year-old daughter, Brianna.

First responders arrived by 7:15 that night, police said, and found Rintala at the bottom of the stairs, cradling her wife’s body, which was bloodied and covered in paint.

The practice of determining a time of death, McDonough testified, is a matter of “estimations, ranges and guesses.”

“I’m not sure I would even classify it as a science at all,” he said, during questioning by Rintala’s attorney, David Hoose.

McDonough explained that he was hired to make an independent determination about whether Cochrane Rintala was killed before or after 3 p.m. McDonough told First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne he could not say one way or the other.

McDonough said he arrived at his conclusion by reviewing first-responder reports and noting their observations about the stiffness of Cochrane Rintala’s body. These first responders, however, were not certified death investigators, the defense contends, and therefore not qualified to properly assess the body.

Stained rag

Additionally, much of the debate regarding forensic evidence in this case has centered around a rag that was recovered from a trash receptacle outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Holyoke.

That rag contained a red-brown stain. Cochrane Rintala was a “potential contributor” to that red-brown stain, state police DNA analyst Tina Gryszowka previously testified. The sample on the rag, however, was deteriorated, she noted.

On Wednesday, Frederick Bieber, a medical geneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, testified that while he agreed that the sample was deteriorated, he does not know the source of the deterioration.

According to previous testimony, Rintala was seen on surveillance video leaving her car and walking toward the trash receptacle on March 29. The prosecution contends that the rag with the red-brown stain was left outside in the trash for about a day before it was collected. It rained on both March 29 and 30, and it was several days before the rag was tested in a lab.

“I have no idea what the source of the DNA on that rag is,” Bieber said.

Missing witness instruction

Without the jury present earlier Wednesday, attorneys discussed a motion by the defense for Judge Mary-Lou Rup to issue jurors a “missing witness” instruction.

Before resting their case Tuesday, prosecutors revealed that Massachusetts State Trooper Jamie Magarian, who was the lead investigator, would not testify.

Generally, the missing witness instruction is given to jurors if a judge decides, among several conditions, that the witness would provide testimony that supported the defendant’s innocence.

Defense attorney Luke Ryan accused prosecutors of playing a game that would “keep evidence of Cara Rintala’s innocence away from the jury.”

Gagne rejected that notion, adding that the prosecution simply decided to take a different route.

“This trial is a clean slate,” Gagne told the judge.

It’s not yet known if the defense will call Magarian. If he testifies and is deemed a hostile witness, the judge can also issue a ruling that would limit the prosecution’s cross-examination.

Rup is expected to take the motion up with the attorneys on Thursday without the jury present. No testimony is scheduled Thursday, but will resume Friday morning.

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


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