The Essex County Courthouse.
Scott E. Denno was sentenced to two 25-year concurrent sentences for his involvement in the murder of Robert Rennie Jr. in Keeseville. Rennie was found dead on Aug. 26, 2012.
Denno is the first of three man charged in the death of Rennie to be sentenced and one of two found guilty of manslaughter.
Denno, 20, was sentenced to the maximum prison sentence of 25 years in prison for Manslaughter in the First Degree and 25 years concurrent on the Gang Assault in the First Degree. Denno was found guilty after a jury trial in May. Essex County Court Judge Richard B. Meyer sentenced Denno to the maximum terms and also imposed 5 years Post-Release Supervision. Along with the jail sentence, Meyer imposed that Denno pay more than $6,000 in court fees and for Rennie’s burial and funeral services.
Rennie’s body was found near an iron foot bridge on Mill Hill Road in Keeseville on the same day. Autopsy reports showed he died from blunt force trauma that caused two collapsed lungs and internal bleeding.
Denno was charged along with Paul Taylor, 39, and Michael Rivers, 36, all of Keeseville. They were each charged with first-degree gang assault after investigations by the New York State Police and the Essex County District Attorney’s office in relation to Rennie’s death.
About 11 members of Robert Rennie’s family members gathered in the courtroom and two family members addressed the Court.
Robert Rennie, Sr., decided to stand before Denno when he asked the maximum sentence be imposed.
“Scott Denno, because of false statements and rumors you became part of a gang that assaulted and killed Robert,” said Rennie. He said because of Denno his son would never see his family again, including two young daughters.
“You tore a piece of our hearts out, you took Robert from us, we miss him everyday. You had no right to take his life, now you will have to answer to the laws of man and God,” said Rennie.
The victim’s sister, Julie Cookingham, read a statement written by her mother Viada Rennie.
“You knowingly participated in the killing of my son,” Cookingham read. “Because of the heinous nature of this crime it is my opinion that in this situation a sentence should be maximum sentence without the consideration of early release.
“I strongly believe that Scott Denno should never be allowed to reside in Keeseville, NY, again,” read Cookingham.
Essex County District Attorney, Kristy Sprague, asked for the highest maximum sentence for Denno.
“Looking at this defended with a fresh eyes you see a then 19-year-old kid with no real criminal history but what we really have here is a man who violently killed another man, who he didn’t even know,” Sprague opened with.
Sprague said this is a case where the defendant initiated contact with Rennie on the night the assault because he believed Rennie was a “woman beater” and had made threats to burn down Rivers home.
Sprague said Denno aided Michael Rivers because he considered and called him “dad” and that together Denno and Rivers beat and dragged Robert Rennie to a spot where he would later be murdered.
“But for the actions of the defendant, Robert Rennie may be alive today,” said Sprague.
Sprague said during the trial, Denno and his defense had tried to minimize his role in the attack and claimed to be cooperative with law enforcement. Though during the trial, it was revealed that Denno gave several versions of what happened that night. Sprague said Denno has yet to say what truly happened that night or even show remorse for his crime.
“The defendant repeatedly punched and put him in a headlock to the point where Robert fell and needed to be picked up. Then the defendant, along with Michael Rivers, chicken-winged Robert and dragged him to a place where he knew Paul Taylor would be. Yet the defendant claimed to have a minimal role saying he may have thrown a couple of punches but he didn’t use excessive force.”
Sprague said every bone in Rennie’s body was broken, both lungs were collapsed, and his liver was lacerated in multiple locations.
“He stated he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Reality is he made that event happen. He made that time and place happen. By the phone call to Paul Taylor and waiting in the parking lot until they eventually found,” said Sprague.
Sprague said since the trial, Denno hasn’t show remorse for the crime and hasn’t offered an apology for his role in Rennie’sdeath.
“He’s a young man that fears incarceration and that is what he is remorseful for, how many years he is going to spend in prison,” Sprague said. “Scott Denno is a young man, he will have a life after prison, but Robert Rennie will not. And even though the sentence will not bring Robert back it will send a message to our communities of accountability for the senseless and heinous act, justice needs to be served here.”
Sprague closed by saying “The defendant has not accepted responsibility, he is not remorseful and he is a danger to our community. He does not deserve leniency. That he did not show Robert Rennie that night.”
Denno’s attorney, Joe Brennan, working for the Public Defender’s Office, defended Denno saying the court should recognize that his client was not the individual primarily responsible for Rennie’s death.
“Looking at each crime he has been charged with said extent to cause serious injury,” said Brennan. “I can’t focus on anything or any act that consistent to cause serious injury. There is no proof it was intentional.”
Before giving his verdict, Meyer said the crime cannot be looked at as if one person was more responsible than another in causing Rennie’s death.
“By engaging in conduct of those who acted in vigilantism, citizen cannot take the law into their own hands,” said Meyer.
Meyer added that at no point during the trial was evidence presented that Rennie had threatened Rivers or he was a “woman beater” that had an order of protection against him. He added there was no immediate threat to Denno’s safety, no emergency situation, no defense of intoxication and no basis for Denno and the others to attack Rennie, who was much smaller than the attackers and was very intoxicated.
“I don’t believe (Rennie’s assault and death) would have happened if you hadn’t helped,” said Meyers. “You deprived Robert Rennie of his right to enjoy his life, You also deprived your own child of a father, for someone who grew up without a father I would think you would have more remorse for the situation.”
Meyer addressed the family and said “Nothing I do today can make up for your loss” before he handed down two concurrent 25-year sentences and restitution fines to Denno. Meyer also imposed and 8-year older of protection against Angela Rivers, the wife of Michael Rivers. Denno lived with the Rivers family at the time of the crime and even called Angela mom.
After the sentencing hearing, Robert Rennie Sr. and 11 other members of Rennie’s family said they couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“We’re one step closer to closure,” said Rennie Sr.