Reasonable Doubt

When Cara Rintala was tried in a western Massachusetts courtroom earlier this year for the murder of Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, it marked the first time in state history that a woman had been charged with killing her lawfully wedded wife. But did she do it?

cara rintala murder trial

Along with her lawyers, Cara Rintala (bottom left) watches police video of herself being interviewed by Lieutenant Robin Whitney, the commander of the state-police detective unit in Massachusetts’ Northwestern District. (Photo by Landov)

At about 3 p.m. on March 29, 2010, Cara Rintala and her two-year-old daughter, Brianna, left their home in the small western Massachusetts town of Granby to run a few errands. It was a rainy day, and after a stop to see some llamas in the neighboring town of Ludlow—Brianna called them “long-haired cows”—they headed for the Holyoke Mall, arriving just before 5 p.m. Surveillance-camera footage of Cara parking her Ford Explorer near the entrance to Target revealed a laundry basket and a red bag sitting in the open bed of the pickup.

Cara and Brianna entered the mall and made stops at the Children’s Place and the Gap, where they bought T-shirts and socks, respectively. While shopping, Cara, who was 43, texted her wife, 37-year-old Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, several times. Annamarie, like Cara, was a paramedic, and she had worked a night shift for American Medical Response in Springfield the evening before. She didn’t reply to Cara’s texts.

After about half an hour, Cara and Brianna left the mall and drove two miles to a McDonald’s. Cara circled behind the restaurant to the farthest corner of the parking lot, then got out of her vehicle and threw some rags into a plastic trash bin. She and Brianna left without buying food.

Next, Cara and Brianna drove three miles to a Stop & Shop, where they spent $15.22. By now, Cara had stopped texting Annamarie and had started calling. Annamarie still didn’t answer. From the supermarket, Cara drove five and a half miles to a Burger King in Chicopee, where she bought Brianna a kid’s meal of mac and cheese. The laundry basket and bag were still in the back of the truck, getting rained on.

After leaving Burger King, Cara and Brianna traveled five miles to their home, at 18 Barton Street in Granby. By the time they pulled up to the house, the laundry basket and bag had disappeared.

A few minutes later, Cara rang the doorbell of her neighbor, Roy Dupuis, a self-employed 65-year-old flooring installer who’d been watching Wheel of Fortune with his wife. He answered the door to find Cara holding Brianna in her arms. She handed the child to Roy, and said, “Call 911! Ann’s in the basement.” Then she turned and ran back home through the rain.

 

One weekend night in 1988, when she was 16 and living with her parents in Springfield, Annamarie Cochrane did not come home. Her parents went out looking for her and found her car parked at a seedy motel in West Springfield. Not wanting to confront her, they returned home and asked Annamarie’s uncle Pasquale Martin to go to the motel and bring her back.

Uncle Pat, as Annamarie called him, did not shy away from confrontation. After getting her room number from the motel clerk, he knocked on the door. “Annie, come out right now and bring out whatever filthy bastard dragged you in there,” he shouted, “so I can tell him Uncle Pat says he’s never going to lay a finger on you again.”

“Uncle Pat,” she said when she emerged from the room, “it’s not what you think.”

“Annie, you don’t have to bullshit me. And I promise I won’t hit the guy.”

“No. It’s worse.”

“What do you mean?”

When Annamarie opened the door, it was a girl who walked out of the room.

Uncle Pat was surprised, but the family accepted Annamarie’s sexuality. People were just naturally drawn to her. A big, feisty, fun-loving woman, her motto was “Live, laugh, love.”

Annamarie went on to become a paramedic and, in 2002, entered a relationship with another paramedic, Cara Rintala, who was slender, aloof, and seven years older. They were an unlikely match. While everyone immediately knew whatever mood Annamarie was in—as well as her opinion on just about every topic—Cara was slow to show her feelings or share her thoughts. But they were in love, and in 2005, Annamarie moved into Cara’s house, in Granby. Two years later, they adopted Brianna, who was less than a week old, and traveled to Provincetown to get married.

Turbulence, though, marked the marriage from the start. Cara objected to Annamarie’s reckless spending, which led to tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. But in September 2008, it was Annamarie who had a serious complaint. She showed up at the Granby police headquarters to seek a restraining order, claiming that Cara had physically abused her. When Cara arrived to tell her side of the story, she was arrested and charged with domestic assault and battery. The charge was later dropped at Annamarie’s request.

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