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?

By Joe McGinniss | Boston Magazine |
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.

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.”

cara rintala murder trial

Photo courtesy of The Republican

Whitney asked her, “So what do you think happened?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know…. I feel like you’re pointing your questions at me. Like I had something to do with it.”

“You’re the one who said you’d been fighting all day.”

Cara leaned forward, placed her head in her hands, and cried out, “God! Goddamn! I wish my head would fall off!”

Asked again about what happened, Cara said, “If I had to guess, she fell down the stairs. It was an accident….”

“But her body was in the middle of the basement, not at the bottom of the stairs. And why was the paint spilled?”

“I don’t know!” Cara started to cry. “I haven’t had any support,” she said. “I’m starting to feel like I’m having the finger pointed at me.”

The next day, as Whitney prepared to conduct a second interview with Cara at the district attorney’s office in Northampton, officials received a phone call from David Hoose, the most prominent criminal attorney in western Massachusetts. Hoose said he was representing Cara and did not want her questioned further. No one in law enforcement ever spoke to her again.

Four days after Annamarie’s death, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel announced that Annamarie had been strangled, and that the DA’s office was treating the death as a homicide—the first in Granby in three decades. Less than a week later, Edge, a leading news source for Boston’s gay and lesbian community, reported that “representatives of victim-advocacy organizations expect that [Cara Rintala] will soon be charged with murder.”

From that point on, however, the investigation slowed to a crawl. As spring turned to summer, and summer to fall, there was no arrest. In fact, Cara sold her house in Granby and moved with Brianna to Rhode Island, where her mother and stepfather lived. The district attorney’s office refused to comment about the investigation. Speculation grew that Scheibel, a supporter of same-sex marriage whose election in 1993 had made her the state’s first-ever female district attorney, was reluctant to charge a woman with the murder of her wife.

Eventually, it would fall to someone else to do so. After 16 years in office, Scheibel decided not to run for reelection. When her successor, Dave Sullivan, took office in 2011, he announced that his first assistant district attorney, Steven Gagne, would take charge of the Rintala investigation. Gagne proceeded cautiously, seeking additional evidence to bolster what was shaping up to be an entirely circumstantial case: There were no eye-witnesses, there was no smoking gun.

Finally, in October 2011, more than a year and a half after Annamarie’s death, a Hampshire County grand jury indicted Cara on a charge of first-degree murder. She was arrested in Rhode Island and waived extradition to Massachusetts. At an October 28 bail hearing in Hampshire County Superior Court, Gagne outlined the evidence he would present to a jury.

According to Gagne, Cara and Annamarie’s relationship had been turbulent, marked by mutual charges of physical abuse, 911 calls, and restraining orders. Annamarie’s reckless spending had driven the couple into massive debt. Annamarie had also fraudulently obtained a credit card in Cara’s name and run up charges of $20,000. Gagne then said that two other women who’d been in relationships with Cara had claimed that she’d been abusive.

And there was physical evidence. According to Gagne’s presentation at the bail hearing, Annamarie’s body was covered in Glidden ceiling paint, which is pink when it’s applied but turns white within an hour. The paint was still pink when first responders arrived at the scene, indicating it had just been poured. In addition, Gagne said, state police found Annamarie’s blood on a rag retrieved from a trash can at the McDonald’s where Cara had stopped during her afternoon of errands with Brianna. Gagne also noted how the surveillance cameras had captured footage of the laundry basket and red bag in Cara’s pickup truck, and how those had disappeared by the time she arrived home. Neither the laundry basket nor the red bag was ever found.

Gagne also read a medical examiner’s statement that Annamarie had likely died between noon and 2 p.m.—at least one hour before Cara, by her own account, had left the house that afternoon with Brianna. Add it all up, he argued, and Cara had the motive, the means, and the opportunity to kill Annamarie.

Cara was ordered held without bail at the women’s correctional facility in Chicopee. The next 16 months were consumed by a variety of pretrial motions and hearings. Her trial finally began on February 20 of this year when, in front of a packed gallery, with the overflow standing in the hallway outside the courtroom, Gagne rose to make his opening statement.

It was the first trial in Massachusetts—and possibly the United States—in which a woman stood accused of murdering her lawfully wedded wife. That it took place in the Northampton area, often proudly referred to as “Lesbianville, USA,” was perhaps more a function of probability than irony.

 

Steven Gagne, a native of Leominster, is a 38-year-old Holy Cross graduate who looks 10 years younger than he is. In New Bedford and Fall River, during his eight years as a Bristol County assistant district attorney, he prosecuted people accused of committing many major crimes, including homicide. Outside the courtroom, Gagne is gracious and compassionate, with a quick wit and a droll sense of humor. In front of a judge or a jury, his poise and self-control are impeccable. He is known—mostly by defendants and their lawyers—as an assassin with a choirboy’s face.

At 10:15 a.m. on February 20, wearing rimless glasses and a conservative dark suit, Gagne seemed the calmest presence in the emotionally charged courtroom as he delivered his opening statement. The thrust of his presentation was that the mounting financial and emotional pressures of the marriage—the chronic arguing and persistent physical violence, culminating in Annamarie’s hysteria during her final 12-hour shift at work—caused Cara to snap. The result, he said, was Annamarie’s body “lying on a cold cement floor, immersed in a pool of fresh paint and her own blood.” Cara, he said, “ended the marriage once and for all, with her own two hands.”

An hour later, David Hoose, Cara’s lawyer, rose to address the jury. Hoose, who stands over six feet tall and has a piercing gaze and a powerful voice that he uses to great effect, is an imposing presence in the courtroom. Now 60, he first came to prominence when he served as the defense attorney for Kristen Gilbert, the VA hospital nurse accused of killing patients by injecting them with lethal doses of epinephrine. Although Gilbert was convicted in Springfield federal court in 2001, Hoose was widely credited with saving her from the death penalty.

“I don’t know who killed Annamarie Rintala,” he said, his voice booming across the 70-seat courtroom. He turned and pointed to Gagne. “And he doesn’t know, either.”

cara rintala murder trial

Photo courtesy of The Republican

Taking a step closer to the jurors, Hoose said, “The difference is, I don’t have to prove anything. I don’t have to tell Mr. Gagne all the things that are wrong with his case—although there are many. He, on the other hand, must convince you of Cara Rintala’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Reasonable doubt, Hoose said, was “the last refuge of the innocent.”

He conceded that Cara should have been considered a suspect, but only along with others, “known and unknown.” There was, for example, Annamarie’s close friend Mark Oleksak, and her former lover, Carla Daniele. Investigators ignored them all, Hoose said, because they were so convinced from the start that Cara Rintala had murdered her wife.

With the opening remarks concluded, the trial began in earnest. Over the next two weeks, Gagne presented the state’s case calmly and methodically. But it soon became apparent that the evidence he had was far less conclusive than he’d claimed at the 2011 bail hearing.

There was, for example, no testimony by other women alleging that Cara had been abusive. (The leads hadn’t panned out, Gagne later said.) Nor was there any discussion of how the paint changed color from pink to white. (Crime-scene photographs taken in the dimly lit basement failed to show the pink color.) As for the rag found in the McDonald’s trash can that state police had claimed had Annamarie’s blood on it, tests showed that DNA taken from the rag was so degraded that no one could say for sure whose blood had stained it, or even if the blood was human.

Gagne’s key witness was Joann Richmond, the medical examiner, by then retired, who had conducted the autopsy. She testified that Annamarie had died of strangulation but had also suffered multiple blunt-trauma injuries and deep cuts on her head, suggesting that she might have been unconscious when strangled. Annamarie also had more than 20 bruises on her arms, legs, and back, injuries consistent with falling—or being pushed—down a flight of stairs.

Richmond testified that if you know where the carotid arteries are—as paramedics do—you can choke someone into unconsciousness within 10 seconds. But it takes another four to four and a half minutes of “throttling” to cause death by strangulation. She now estimated the time of death to be between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

During cross-examination by Hoose, though, Richmond conceded that in her original autopsy report, she’d stated that the time of death was “unknown.”

During another cross-examination, a state-police detective told Hoose that Mark Oleksak had lied during his first two interviews with police. Oleksak had first claimed he’d been home all afternoon on the day Annamarie was murdered. When reinterviewed, however, he said he’d gone to a furniture store with his wife and daughter late in the afternoon. Only when confronted with receipts months later did Oleksak acknowledge that earlier that afternoon he’d gone to the bank, to Walmart to buy a pair of sweatpants, and to a Big Y supermarket to buy a bag of cat litter. During the cross-examination, Hoose also brought out the bizarre fact that Oleksak had been so obsessed with Annamarie that after her death he’d brought her sleeping bag home and slept in it for months.

Hoose spent only a day and a half on his defense, as if to show his contempt for the prosecution’s case, which in his opening statement he’d called “a house of cards.” Cara did not testify. Hoose’s most important witness was Elizabeth Laposata, a former Rhode Island state medical examiner and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Brown University medical school. Laposata estimated that Annamarie had died between 2:30 p.m. and 5:20 p.m. In other words, she thought the murder was more likely to have occurred after Cara had left the house than before.

Hoose’s closing argument was simple: The jury could not convict Cara, because the prosecution had not proven her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “It’s not my job to convince you that Mark Oleksak committed this murder,” he said. “I don’t know if he did or did not, but he clearly hasn’t been sufficiently investigated.” Why, Hoose asked, did Oleksak buy sweatpants that afternoon? “Were his pants dirty? Were they bloody? We don’t know. The police never tried to find out.”

Oleksak’s purchase of the cat litter, Hoose said, was even more notable. Cat hairs, he pointed out, were found on Annamarie’s body, even though the Rintalas hadn’t owned a cat in at least nine months. “Is that significant?” he asked the jury. “You’ll have to decide. But the evidence suggests that someone who owned a cat or had recent contact with a cat committed this crime.”

 

When it came time for his closing statement, Gagne told the jury that reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all possible doubt. “We don’t need to disprove every wacky theory that the defense throws up against the wall, hoping something sticks,” he said. “The killer must have been covered with cat hair, and Oleksak bought cat litter that day, so he must be the killer?” Common sense, he told the jurors, “is not something you check at the door when you enter that room to deliberate.”

No one would ever know where Cara drove when she was out of range of surveillance cameras, Gagne told the jurors, nor how or where she disposed of the items in the back of her truck. But, he said, it would not be unreasonable to infer that they contained incriminating evidence. And even though there turned out to be no incriminating bloodstains on the rags Cara threw in the McDonald’s trash can, she must have thought there were, otherwise, why discard them?

cara rintala murder trial

Top: Cara Rintala with her defense attorney, David Hoose. (Photo by Landov) Bottom Left: Steven Gagne, the prosecutor. (Photo by Kevin Gutting, courtesy of Daily Hampshire Gazette) Bottom Right: Judge Mary-Lou Rup. (Photo by Landov)

Gagne brought up the frenzied, tearful 911 call Cara had made in May 2009: “She ended it by saying, ‘I need help.’ But the police couldn’t give her any help.” And if Cara had been that desperate in May 2009, Gagne said, how much closer to her breaking point would she have been almost a year later? Annamarie was spending money faster than they could earn it, and was threatening to take Brianna away. Gagne posited that, after the long night of hysterical texting back and forth, Annamarie came home from work and the fighting continued. At some point, he said, Cara pushed her wife down the basement stairs.

Now, Gagne said, “Things have gone too far.” Annamarie lay hurt, bleeding from the head, “stunned, defenseless, unable to fight back.” Cara, he said, knew what would happen if Annamarie recovered: the call to 911, another charge of assault and battery, and this time, surely, the Department of Children and Families would take Brianna.

So, Gagne said, Cara made the decision to strangle Annamarie. “After 10 seconds, Annamarie is unconscious,” he said. “Four and a half minutes later, she’s dead. Four and a half minutes where Cara could have stopped, could have changed her mind. It didn’t need to come to this. It did not need to come to this. But on March 29, 2010, after two and a half years of a very turbulent and violent and unhealthy relationship, a nerve was struck. And Cara Lee Rintala flipped…. This woman sitting right here committed murder…. It didn’t need to come to this. But it did.”

 

Judge Mary-Lou Rup spent 90 minutes instructing the jury. “It is not enough for the commonwealth to establish a probability, even a strong probability, that the defendant is more likely to be guilty than not guilty,” she said. “That is not enough. Instead, the evidence must convince you of the defendant’s guilt to a near certainty; a certainty that convinces your understanding and satisfies your reason and judgment as jurors who are sworn to act conscientiously on the evidence. This is what we mean by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The jury deliberated for an hour that day, and for all of the next, a Friday, without reaching a verdict. Nor did they reach a verdict on Monday. Inside the jury room, no one argued that Cara was innocent, but six jurors felt that Gagne had failed to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On Tuesday, they replayed the recording of Rup’s reasonable-doubt instruction three times. Two jurors reluctantly conceded that their doubts were probably not “reasonable.” That made eight for conviction, but four—two men and two women—held firm on their belief in reasonable doubt.

On the jurors’ fourth full day of deliberation, they sent Rup a note asking if they could return to the courtroom and listen to her read the reasonable-doubt instruction again, as if from her body language or intonation they might glean meaning or guidance not contained in her original words. She read it again, and they listened. It changed nothing.

In Hampshire and Franklin counties, 98 percent of criminal trials that reach the point of jury deliberation result in verdicts. Almost always, the 12 deliberating jurors will eventually reach a unanimous decision. But at 3 p.m. on March 13, the jury told Rup that they were hopelessly deadlocked and further deliberation would not help. Rup declared a mistrial and sent the jurors on their way.

Less than two weeks later, Rup denied bail for Cara, meaning she will remain imprisoned in Chicopee until her case can be retried. That’s not expected to be until next year, because David Hoose is already fully booked for the remainder of 2013. Brianna, now six, is living with Cara’s mother and stepfather in Rhode Island.

 

After the trial, I contacted all of the jurors. Most declined to talk, but I did speak to one of the four jurors who would not vote to convict. She was a high school teacher. “Why didn’t the police investigate Oleksak more?” she asked. “He changed his alibi.” She echoed Hoose’s point that cat hairs were found on Annamarie’s body the same day Oleksak bought a sack of kitty litter.

But Annamarie’s mother had testified that Annamarie and Cara had owned two cats the previous year. And Annamarie’s Uncle Pat told me later that Oleksak, in fact, didn’t own a cat. Oleksak told Uncle Pat that he’d bought the litter because oil was seeping from the base of his furnace, and he wanted to pour an absorbent on it to make it easier to clean up.

In The Origins of Reasonable Doubt, the Yale Law School professor James Q. Whitman writes, “The ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard was not originally designed to make it more difficult for jurors to convict. It was designed to make conviction easier, by assuring jurors that their souls were safe if they voted to condemn the accused…. It was the product of a world troubled by moral anxieties that no longer trouble us much at all…. We are asking the reasonable doubt standard to serve a function that it was not originally designed to serve, and it does its work predictably badly.”

At Cara’s next trial, which is expected to take place early next year in Hampshire County Superior Court, in Northampton, two things seem certain: First, as Massachusetts law requires, the trial judge will once again instruct the jurors as to the meaning of reasonable doubt, which will likely serve only to confuse them.

Second, Steven Gagne will make it clear whether or not Mark Oleksak owned a cat.

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/article/2013/05/28/cara-rintala-murder-trial/