Press-Republican

May 24, 2013

Testimony: Rennie blood on Rivers's jeans

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Blood on Michael D. Rivers’s Calvin Klein jeans belonged to Robert Rennie, a forensic scientist testified Thursday in Essex County Court.

Sets of DNA profiles and the evidence they came from filled a courtroom table as Rivers’s trial for first-degree manslaughter continued.

He is one of three men who were charged in the beating death of Rennie, who was found dead near a barricaded bridge in Keeseville on Aug. 26, 2012.

State Police forensic scientist Brian Murphy said several stained area on the jeans tested positive for the presence of blood.

The forensic analysis compared DNA from the blood stains with known profiles of Rennie, he said.

And he explained to the jury how DNA profiles are developed in the Albany lab from swabs of blood or bloody patches of clothing.

DNA ON SNEAKER

Assistant District Attorney Michael Langey questioned Murphy, sorting through numerous stains on Rivers’s jeans and on the shoelace eyelets of his sneakers.

Directing Murphy’s attention to the final lab report, he asked about certain areas of Rivers’s jeans.

“When compared to (the DNA profile) from Robert Rennie, it matched,” Murphy said.

And blood from the right sneaker was “consistent with DNA from Robert Rennie,” he said, noting that it was mixed with at least one additional donor’s DNA that could not be determined.

Another bloodstain from the tongue of Rivers’s right Nike Trail sneaker also matched Rennie’s DNA, he said.

Langey established that blood stains consistent with Rennie’s DNA profile were found on the Chippewa boots that Paul J. Taylor had worn on the night Rennie died and on one of the Michelin boots worn by Scott E. Denno.

Taylor, 39, is charged with second-degree homicide in Rennie’s death.

Denno, 20, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and felony gang assault by another jury two weeks ago.

Rivers and Taylor also are charged with gang assault, along with possession of a weapon charges.

SOLES NOT TESTED

In re-examining the data, defense attorney Gregory LaDuke asked Murphy what “at least one additional donor” means in blood evidence.

The scientist said it allows that other DNA was found with the sample but was not complete enough for testing.

“At least one more?” LaDuke asked.

“It’s possible, it’s just — we don’t know,” Murphy answered.

Rivers’s attorney, assigned by the Public Defender’s Office, asked the scientist if the lab had tested the soles of either of the sneakers worn by his client.

“No,” Murphy said, “it does not appear I did.”

“Because there’s no blood?” LaDuke asked.

“It could be,” Murphy answered.

‘VOLATILE RELATIONSHIP’

New York State Police Senior Investigator John Donahue took the stand near midday to describe a series of interviews he directed and conducted with Rivers; his wife, Angela Rivers; and Denno.

At first, he testified, Mr. Rivers told the police he had worked Saturday during the day, cutting wood with Taylor, but then went home and stayed in for the evening.

Mr. Rivers also told police he knew Robert Rennie was in a volatile relationship with Samantha LaCroix, who had also been dating Taylor and was sharing her apartment with him.

It was Donahue who told Rivers, Denno and Mr. and Mrs. Rivers that Rennie had died. He broke the news to them at Rivers’s mother’s home in Keeseville later on the morning of Aug. 26.

Later that same day, State Police recorded a two-and-a-half-hour interview with Mr. Rivers by State Police.

VIDEO IN COURT

That entire interview was played for jurors Thursday.

Donahue is seen coming and going from the room, as he simultaneously checked the depositions of Mrs. Rivers, Taylor and the Riverses’ son, Brandon.

Mr. Rivers tells police he worked that day with Taylor, went to drop him off at LaCroix’s house, then to McDonald’s restaurant in Peru, then home for the night.

“I’ve got other information that indicates otherwise,” Donahue says to Mr. Rivers in the video. “Because I know there’s more to the night.”

Taylor apparently had told police he did not know Rennie.

But later during the interrogation, Mr. Rivers recalls that he and his wife called the police when they knew Rennie was with LaCroix.

And two days before, Mr. Rivers tells police during the interview, Rennie had been with LaCroix, and she had sent a text to Mrs. Rivers complaining that Rennie was being aggressive.

“I’ve never been involved with nothing like this in my life,” Mr. Rivers says, raising his hands and flapping them, then flopping them back onto the armrests of his chair.

‘WASN’T DRINKING’

Mr. Rivers tells police in the video that he was not drinking that night.

“Honest to God, officer, I ain’t tryin’ to hold nothin’ back,” he says.

Then, he recalls, Rennie had called Taylor in an attempt to become friends.

“Sam(antha LaCroix) must have gave him (Rennie) the number,” Mr. Rivers says.

“He (Rennie) did threaten to burn my house down,” Mr. Rivers says abruptly, “maybe a month ago.

“Samantha (LaCroix) had received a text from Robert and told Angie about it.”

‘NEVER HAD ALTERCATION’

In the interview, Donahue asks Mr. Rivers how old his son Brandon is.

“Seventeen,” Mr. Rivers said.

“We’re going to talk to him. He’s going to be the tie-breaker here,” Donahue said, then pauses for some 30 or 40 seconds.

Mr. Rivers says nothing to forestall the interview with his son.

“I got a family, officer,” he says, before again maintaining that he got home, “sat down, watched TV. I don’t believe I got any texts.”

Then he tells police he did get a call from Taylor.

“He said, ‘Rob’s (Rennie) on his way, coming here.’”

And Taylor wanted him to go to LaCroix’s and pick him up, Mr. Rivers tells police.

“My son never saw nothing. I never had no altercation.”

“Every lie you tell is going to make it look bad for you,” Donahue said that day.

Court testimony resumes after the holiday weekend, at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com