Press-Republican

May 4, 2013

Witness describes brutal beating in Keeseville

By KIM SMITH DEDAM Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Angela Rivers says she watched her husband, Michael D. Rivers, and Scott Denno dragging Robert Rennie down Mill Hill on the night of Aug. 25, 2012.

“My husband, Michael, and Scott each had one of Mr. Rennie’s arms,” Mrs. Rivers testified in Essex County Court on Friday. “He (Rennie) was hanging back like a child (with its parents) that doesn’t want to walk with them. They walked towards me until they got to straight across from me in the road.”

Denno is on trial for first-degree manslaughter and other charges in the beating death of Rennie; Mr. Rivers will face those same charges in court later this month, and Paul J. Taylor, charged with second-degree murder and other crimes, is slated for trial in June.

Denno, Mrs. Rivers testified, stood off to one side as Mr. Rivers and Rennie started yelling and took one swing each at each other that night, she said.

“That’s when Mr. Taylor entered the picture,” Mrs. Rivers said, describing how he leaped into the air, reached over Mr. Rivers’s head and punched Rennie, who fell to the ground.

“Then the kicking started. Once he hit the ground, I just seen feet,” Mrs. Rivers said.

“Taylor started kicking, then Scott and my husband started kicking.”

ORDER OF PROTECTION

Earlier that night, Mrs. Rivers had testified, describing the events that led up to the violence, she had driven her husband and Denno to the home of Samantha LaCroix.

LaCroix and Mr. Rivers are cousins, she said, and Rennie had been dating her for about a year.

But, she said, LaCroix had been granted an Order of Protection from Rennie about five months prior to the night he died, and Mr. Rivers had been concerned that Rennie was with LaCroix.

“I assume Michael wanted to see if he could see anybody in the window,” she said. “We parked by the trees in the trailer park.”

After having dated her for two days, Taylor was living with LaCroix as a “roommate,” according to LaCroix’s testimony earlier this week.

CALLED POLICE

After a few minutes, the Riverses and Denno walked up to the house and stood under an open second-floor kitchen window to listen.

Then Denno texted Taylor.

“Scott texted him he had gotten jumped and needed his help,” Mrs. Rivers said.

Taylor came out of the house about five minutes later.

At that point, Mrs. Rivers told the court, she called police to report Rennie was with LaCroix.

“We went to a parking lot across from the phone company,” Mrs. Rivers said.

“I had called the police on our way to the parking lot because there was an Order of Protection for Samantha to (Rennie). I did it as an anonymous caller.

“The dispatcher told me they would send a trooper. We waited another five to 10 minutes for the police to come, and they never showed up.”

‘NOT DRINKING’

They moved the car and watched, waiting for the police to arrive, she said.

When Mrs. Rivers got in the driver’s seat to take Taylor to buy cigarettes, Mr. Rivers and Denno got out of the vehicle.

That was at about 11:45 p.m. Aug. 25, she said.

She and her husband had not been drinking, Mrs. Rivers testified.

And Denno, she said, wasn’t drinking either.

‘LIKE A PUNTER’

Upon returning to a parking lot near LaCroix’s house, Mrs. Rivers said Taylor exited the vehicle to relieve himself.

That was when she saw her husband and Denno dragging Rennie. And then Taylor struck him down.

Mrs. Rivers described fierce blows from Taylor, testifying that he stepped back and got a running start, jumping up before delivering each kick.

She said it was “like a punter from a football team running up to kick a ball.”

She estimated Taylor kicked Rennie seven or eight times in this manner, lifting Rennie’s body off the ground with each blow.

Mrs. Rivers said Rennie was on his knees and elbows on the ground, using his hands to cover his head.

She told the court she heard him yell out, “OK, OK, OK, OK.”

Mr. Rivers and Denno each kicked Rennie three or four times, she said, as they stood on either side of his torso.

‘AT FULL FORCE’

“I started screaming for them to stop,” Mrs. Rivers said.

“Mr. Denno stopped first. Then my husband stopped. Taylor kept kicking.”

She said her husband tried to intervene, but Taylor shoved him aside, saying, “I’m not done yet.”

And he kept kicking, delivering another seven or eight blows at full force, she said.

Mrs. Rivers said she turned on the vehicle’s lights, at which point Taylor stopped and Rennie got up and ran off toward the bridge.

The three men then got into Mrs. Rivers’s van and went back to the couple’s mobile home.

‘I WAS AFRAID’

Mrs. Rivers said Taylor was bragging. 

“(And) Scott said he got a couple good kicks in,” she testified.

It was about 12:20 a.m. by then, she estimated.

When they got to the house, she said, “Paul (Taylor) threw his boots on the table and said he got (Rennie) good.”

“What was Scott (Denno) saying?” Assistant District Attorney Michael Langey asked.

“Scott said he had gotten his shots in, too,” she answered.

Mrs. Rivers admitted to Langey that she did not initially tell police everything she had seen.

“I was afraid,” she said. “Of Mr. Taylor. Of my husband. I was told to keep my f------ mouth shut.”

‘UNOBSTRUCTED VIEW’

On cross examination, defense attorney Joe Brennan asked Mrs. Rivers if she knew providing false information constitutes a crime.

She told him she did know that.

Brennan asked if that statement to “keep her mouth shut” was told to her by Mr. Denno.

“No,” Mrs. Rivers said.

Brennan established that Mrs. Rivers had an unobstructed view of what Mr. Taylor was doing.

“You did not see any actual kick from Scott Denno?” Brennan queried.

“I could see him moving,” Mrs. Rivers said. “I could not actually see where his foot was kicking.”

‘ALL KICKING’

Brennan read from the first statement Mrs. Rivers gave to police on Sept. 24, 2012, nearly a month after Rennie’s death.

In it, Mrs. Rivers said Denno “got in a few good shots.”

In a statement to police, Denno admitted hitting Rennie three times in an earlier altercation.

“It might have been shots, not kicks?” Brennan asked Mrs. Rivers.

“It might have been, yes,” she answered.

Langey asked a few more questions.

“So, for the first almost minute, they’re all kicking at the same time?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Rivers said.

“Did the defendant (Denno) ever stop kicking Robert Rennie before you screamed?”

“No,” the witness answered.

RESUMES MONDAY

Mrs. Rivers’s graphic description of the beating took all of Friday afternoon.

State Police Investigator Theodore Levison had been cross-examined by Brennan on Friday morning.

Denno’s trial reconvenes on Monday morning.

Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedam@pressrepublican.com