ELIZABETHTOWN — A State Police investigator says Scott E. Denno had marks on his knuckles and under one eye when he was questioned about the beating death of Robert Rennie last August.
In Essex County Court on Wednesday morning, Bureau of Criminal Investigation Violent Crimes Unit Investigator Theodore J. Levison testified that Denno told him he had punched a cow once when he worked on a farm, injuring his knuckles, and that the injury to his eye was from a four-wheeler accident.
Rennie’s body was found near the closed iron bridge in Keeseville on the morning of Aug. 26.
Denno, who is from Keeseville, is charged with first-degree manslaughter, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon; Michael Rivers, also of Keeseville, faces the same charges; and Paul J. Taylor is scheduled for trial in June on charges that include second-degree homicide.
‘PLAYED VIDEO GAMES’
Denno changed his story several times about the events on Aug. 25 and 26 leading up to Rennie’s death, Levison told the court.
He said police first interrogated Denno on Aug. 26, while he was at State Police barracks in Plattsburgh waiting for family members who were being questioned.
Levison said Denno told him that on Aug. 25 into Aug. 26 he was playing video games at Michael Rivers’s house all night, except for leaving once with a friend to get cigarettes from a Mobil gas station in Keeseville.
He said he went to sleep on the living-room couch at 3 a.m.
Denno told Levison that he had been living with Rivers and his wife, Angela, since the beginning of that week.
“He referred to them as ‘Mom and Dad,’” Levison said.
Levison captured his first conversation with Denno on a small recording device he kept in the breast pocket of his shirt.
The investigator told the court that Denno told him that he sometimes “plays dumb.”
“Sometimes, he likes to play that card because basically it’s easier for him to pretend that he’s dumb,” Levison said.
The investigator had also noticed the distinctive Michelin-brand boots Denno was wearing that day.
Denno told him the boots had been issued to him while he was working at a baby-food plant in Vermont.
Levison got a search warrant for the boots and picked them up from the Riverses’ home the next day.
‘DROVE TAYLOR HOME’
After the initial questioning, Levison stepped out of the office where Denno was being interviewed, and Investigator Glenn Huber told him that Mr. Rivers had given a different story — that Denno had accompanied him on a car ride to bring Taylor home that night after he had come to the house.
When Levison re-entered the room — accompanied by Huber — he decided to advise Denno of his Miranda rights.
“I suspected that he may be lying about his whereabouts the night before,” Levison told the jury.
After that, Denno admitted that Taylor had come to the Riverses’ home that night.
Taylor was drunk, stayed for awhile, and then Denno, Rivers and a friend drove him to his residence in a Keeseville mobile-home park, Levison said Denno told them.
“After a while, he assured me that was it — that was the only thing he had left out,” Levison said.
In the next version of events Denno gave, Levison said, the defendant said that after they had dropped Taylor off, he and Mr. Rivers had seen Rennie walking on the side of the road.
Levison said Denno told him that Rennie had tried to set the Riverses’ house on fire and that he was a “woman beater.”
“He said where he comes from, women beaters don’t live,” Levison told the jury.
So police could better visualize the events, Levison, Huber and Denno got into a Pontiac Grand Prix, drove to Keeseville from Plattsburgh and traced the route that Denno said he had taken that night with Mr. Rivers.
Denno and Mr. Rivers and Rennie had yelled profanities at each other until Rennie punched Mr. Rivers and knocked him down, Levison said Denno told him.
In this statement, Denno said he had seen Rennie holding a glass bottle and that when Rennie reached for something in his pocket, Denno punched Rennie once in the head, once in the ribs and one more time in either his ribs or his head.
He said he couldn’t remember for sure, Levison said.
Denno said Rennie fell to the ground, at that point, and Rivers and Denno left him there.
“They looked back to see Robert up on his feet, kind of holding his side and staggering,” Levison said Denno had told him during this statement.
Denno’s statement said he went back home after that, woke up at 6 a.m., vomited and then slept until 8 a.m.
Investigators weren’t able to find the remains of the bottle when Denno guided them to the location of the altercation, Levison said.
‘OUT OF NOWHERE’
Then, on Sept. 11, 2012, investigators questioned Denno in an interview room with audio and visual recording capabilities at the Plattsburgh barracks.
“He proceeded to tell us another version,” Levison said.
This time, the investigator said, Denno and Mr. Rivers saw Rennie walking north on Route 9 in Keeseville while they were walking south on the opposite side of the road.
Levison said Denno told investigators that Rennie had started the fight and that Denno put him in a headlock, and Rennie dropped to the ground. Then the three men agreed to move to the more secluded parking lot of the Frontier Telephone Co.
The investigator said Denno told them he and Mr. Rivers had to help Rennie walk, since he looked to be intoxicated.
The two men supported Rennie, one walking on each side of him until they reached the parking lot, Levison said he was told.
Then, Denno said in this statement, Taylor appeared “out of nowhere” and punched Rennie, who fell to the ground.
Levison said Denno told them he kicked Rennie three times, and that after he stopped, Taylor continued to kick Rennie with more forceful blows.
Denno reportedly told the investigator that Rennie was face down on the ground in a fetal position.
Then, Denno told police, he saw Rennie get up, and he and Mr. Rivers went directly back to their residence.
Mr. Rivers, Denno and Taylor returned to the Riverses’ residence. Taylor took off his boots, saying, “I put these to Robert tonight,” Levison said Denno had told him.
Levison said Denno told him he felt extremely dirty and that “he wanted to take a shower and scratch his eyes out.”
Houle, who works in the State Police Collision Reconstruction Unit out of Ray Brook, also took the stand.
Rennie’s body was still on the ground while Houle used a handheld computer device to map the distances beginning from the footbridge on Mill Hill Road to 1612 Front St., he said.
His supervisors also asked him to document other evidence that he would later include in diagram that he would construct using special computer software.
The evidence was in a parking area 763 feet away from Rennie’s body, Houle said.
“To me, they looked like small red circles.”
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