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

Courtesy Photo

On May 12, 2009, someone made a 911 call from the Rintala home. The dispatcher heard a woman screaming, “Just leave! Just leave!” But when police arrived at the scene, both women said Brianna had accidentally dialed the phone number.

The same day, however, Cara filed for divorce. Then, on May 26, she made a tearful 911 call to Granby police that lasted four and a half minutes. Cara was so hysterical that the dispatcher could hear only snippets of what she was saying. “She’s threatening to take my daughter from me!” she said, sobbing. “I’m being threatened. I can’t get hold of my lawyers.” She concluded by saying, “I need help.”

Later that day, Cara and Annamarie went to district court to seek restraining orders against each other. Cara was again hysterical. “She constantly threatens me that she’s going to take away my livelihood, my home, and my daughter,” she told Judge John Payne. “I don’t know what to do…. I’m afraid. I’m afraid to be in my own house.”

Payne was less than sympathetic. “You’re going to have to deal with it,” he said. “I don’t think either of you are stable enough to be parents. I am this close to filing criminal charges against both of you. And if I ever see you in my court again, I’ll be on the phone to the Department of Children and Families so fast that they’ll be here before you get out the door.”

The following month, June, Annamarie began a clandestine relationship with a Springfield police officer named Carla Daniele. In August, she moved out of Cara’s house and began to live with Daniele, in South Hadley. When she came back to visit Brianna one day, as Annamarie’s mother would later recall, Cara called and told her, “Come get your fucking daughter out of my house.”

But in November, after running up $10,000 on Daniele’s credit cards, Annamarie left Daniele and moved back in with Cara. Despite having almost $100,000 in credit card debt, they decided to take a winter cruise in the Caribbean.

 

On the evening of March 28, 2010, Annamarie worked an overnight paramedic shift in Springfield. It was the night before Cara and Brianna’s odd afternoon of errands. With Annamarie away, Cara received a visit from her friend Mike Cyranowski, who showed up with a six-pack.

Cara texted Annamarie to tell her that Cyranowski was visiting. Annamarie went ballistic, the thought of Cara drinking with a male friend driving her into a rage. She texted back: “IT IS BECOMING VERY CLEAR HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT ME…I DON’T LIKE FEELING THIS WAY U R MY WIFE…I HATE THE RELATIONSHIP WE HAVE.”

Cara responded: “OK U BEING OVER THE TOP AND CRAZY FOR NO REASON!!! IT’S OK! HE’S MY FRIEND. PERIOD! NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG.”

Annamarie replied: “U R RUDE. I’M GONNA LEAVE…YOU DON’T GIVE A SHIT. U R RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL.”

That same night, however, Annamarie was flirting via text with one of her married coworkers, Mark Oleksak, with whom she’d had an exceptionally close relationship for years. They were so close, in fact, that Oleksak had given Annamarie a credit card to use. She quickly ran up $7,000 in debt.

Oleksak and Annamarie would sometimes arrange their work schedules so they could spend time together. Three days before Annamarie’s furious text exchange with Cara, they’d sneaked off for a day of shopping in Hartford. During the early-morning hours of March 29, even as Annamarie was sending angry texts about Cara entertaining Cyranowski, she was making plans for Oleksak to come to the Rintala home a few nights later, when Cara would be working an overnight shift.

The women’s angry text conversation eventually ended, and at 8 a.m. Annamarie finished her shift and returned home. A little later that morning, Cara got a call from the Ludlow Fire Department, where she worked, asking her to come in. She drove to Ludlow and clocked in, then found out she wasn’t needed, after all. She was back home by 11 a.m.

Cara remained at home for four hours before leaving with Brianna at around 3 p.m. on their errand run. When Oleksak texted Annamarie at 1:53 p.m. to say he’d just learned that his sister had cancer, she uncharacteristically did not reply.

 

After Cara handed Brianna to her neighbor Roy Dupuis and ran back to her house, Dupuis immediately called the police. Three minutes later, the first Granby officer, Gary Poehler, arrived at 18 Barton Street. As Poehler would later testify, when he stepped into the kitchen, the door to the basement was open. He could hear a woman yelling. Poehler descended the stairs and saw Cara sitting on the basement floor, which was streaked with paint, pinkish-white in color and still wet, and with what appeared to be blood.

Annamarie’s body, clad in a sports bra and jeans, lay across Cara’s lap, face up. The body was covered with the paint, and the face was so bloated and bloody that Poehler, who knew Annamarie, at first did not recognize her.

“She’s dead! I can’t believe she’s dead!” Cara yelled.

It took two Granby policemen to shift Annamarie’s body, which weighed nearly 200 pounds, so Cara could slide out from underneath. The body was cold and stiff, as if Annamarie had been dead for many hours.

The officers, who both knew Cara, led her upstairs and seated her at the kitchen table. “What happened?” one asked.

“We’d been arguing since yesterday,” Cara said. “We should never leave each other mad.” She said she’d been out for several hours, doing errands with Brianna. She’d come home to find the side door open and the house dark, except for a light in the basement.

Cara told them she started down the basement stairs, saw the body, and immediately took Brianna next door. Returning to the basement, she sat on the floor next to Annamarie, then rolled her body, which had been face down, into a face-up position on her lap. She said the body was already covered in paint. Then she said something peculiar. Although no one had yet suggested that Annamarie had been murdered—she might have tripped and fallen down the stairs—Cara said, “I understand I’m the number one suspect.”

 

Lieutenant Robin Whitney, commanding officer of the state-police detective unit attached to the Northwestern District Attorney’s office, arrived to take charge of the investigation, assisted by a veteran state-police detective named Jamie Magarian.

As Magarian analyzed the crime scene, Whitney interviewed Cara for two and a half hours at the Granby police station. Cara explained that she’d taken Brianna out in the middle of the afternoon so Annamarie could sleep undisturbed before going back to work at 8 p.m. But almost immediately during the interview, Cara started complaining about Annamarie: She was physically abusive, she couldn’t stop spending, she was loud, she had a temper, she was lazy and manipulative. Every so often, Cara would stop and say something along the lines of: “I feel like I’m betraying her. I feel terrible saying negative things about her.” Then the litany would continue. “She gets in confrontations all the time…. She’s always saying mean things, it’s very hurtful.”