The Essex County Courthouse.
The trial of the third and final suspect in the murder of Robert Rennie began on Tuesday.
Paul Taylor, 39, of Keeseville was charged with second degree murder, second degree gang assault and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Rennie’s body was found near an iron footbridge on Mill Hill Road in Keeseville Aug. 26, 2012. Autopsy reports showed he died from blunt force trauma that caused two collapsed lungs and internal bleeding.
Proceedings began after jury selection was completed Sept. 24. Opening statements were made by the District Attorney Kristy Sprague and the defendant’s lawyer, Essex County Public Defender Brandon Boutelle.
Sprague told the jury in her opening statement, “I would love to be able to give a clear motive in this case but I can’t.”
She told the jury that over the course of the trial they will be presented with evidence that Taylor beat Rennie so badly and it was as a result of those injuries that he died.
“We will prove not only did Paul Taylor try to cause harm to Robert Rennie but at some point in time on the night of Aug. 25 his intentions changed to want to kill Robert Rennie.”
Sprague said Taylor’s motives to harm Rennie stemmed from the romantic relationships both men had with Samantha LaCroix. LaCroix and Rennie had a long history of romantic on-and-off-again involvement. Taylor and LaCroix also had a short romantic relationship after which, Sprague said, Taylor and LaCroix became roommates so Taylor could help with the bills.
“Paul Taylor utilized an opportunity to solve a problem and that problem was Robert Rennie,” Sprague said. “LaCroix will testify that on the night of Robert Rennie’s death, Paul Taylor returned to her home and told her she wouldn’t have to worry about Robert Rennie knocking on her door again.”
Following Sprague, Boutelle opened by saying his client was being used as a scapegoat for the Rivers family.
“The Rivers family is trying to shift blame to Paul Taylor,” Boutelle said. “You’ll hear no evidence that Paul Taylor had any involvement in the attack.”
Boutelle said though DNA and blood from Rennie was on Taylor’s steel-toed boots, it is not sufficient evidence that Taylor was involved.
“DNA evidence can’t tell you why someone’s DNA gets on the object, there are numerous ways someone’s DNA can get on an object without physically causing injury,” Boutelle said. “Taylor did not kick, punch or elbow Robert Rennie, Paul Taylor is a scapegoat.”
He told the jury it all started in early summer when an order of protection was given to keep Rennie and LaCroix from seeing each other. LaCroix, who is Michael Rivers cousin and Angela Rivers, Michael’s wife, was LaCroix’s childcare provider. Boutelle said Michael Rivers considered Rennie a, “woman-beater,” and he didn’t like him.
“Their plan that night was to see Robert Rennie leave LaCroix’s house in handcuffs,” Boutelle said. “Paul Taylor‘s biggest mistake that night was he didn’t want to be at Sam LaCroix’s house when Robert was there. So he had the Rivers’ pick him up.”
Boutelle said the court’s main witness, Angela Rivers, is not reliable because she has a bias for saying Taylor was the main perpetrator in the assault.
“Angela Rivers loves her husband and they loved Scott Denno so much that they called him son and he called them mom and dad, Paul Taylor is the outsider in this group, he is not family.”
Boutelle said the peoples’ evidence will fall short of proving Taylor guilty and that at the end of the trial he’ll ask they find Taylor not guilty.
During the last part of the proceedings Sept. 24, the prosecution called three witnesses. Trooper Keith Payne testified he had received a 911 call from an unidentified woman at 11:25 p.m. on the night of the murder saying two people, Rennie and LaCroix, were together when they weren’t supposed to be together at a Front Street location.
The second witness was newspaper delivery man, Brian McNeally. McNeally testified that around 6:10 a.m., he had drove down Mill Hill and noticed a person laying next to the closed bridge.
“I went next to the person knelt down and shrugged his shoulder,” McNeally said. “His body was kind of twisted, his legs were not out and his face was twisted down.”
McNeally said he tried to find a pulse but couldn’t then got in his car and called for help.
The third and final witness to take the stand was Polly King, a volunteer with the Keeseville Fire Department and EMS squad and neighbor of Rennie’s. King testified she arrived at the scene at about 6:14 a.m. King said when she arrived she tried to find a pulse on his arm. She recounted that Rennie’s face and neck were covered in blood. When she felt how stiff his body was she followed protocol and stepped away from Rennie’s body and secured the scene by moving her car up Mill Hill to stop any cars from coming through and compromising any evidence.
King said she had recognized Rennie because she’d known him for almost 30 years and he was her neighbor.
The trial continued on Wednesday. Of the witnesses called, the first was LaCroix. She recounted her relationships with Rennie and Taylor and talked about the night of Rennie’s death.
State Police Trooper Christopher Guynup testified that he was one of the first troopers to arrive on the scene.
Trooper Andrew Cornell, who had previously handled the order of protection between Rennie and LaCroix then took the stand.
A recording of an interview with Taylor with State Police at the Keeseville barracks during the investigation was replayed for the court.
Trials for the two other suspects have led to the convictions of Scott E. Denno and Michael D. Rivers.
Denno was sentenced in August to the maximum 25 years in prison for Manslaughter in the First Degree and Gang Assault in the First Degree. Denno was found guilty after a jury trial in May.
Rivers was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter and first degree gang assault on May 30 in relation to the death of Rennie. A third charge of criminal possession of a weapon was thrown out. Sentencing for Rivers is scheduled for November.
More information will be added as the trial continues.