Press-Republican

September 28, 2013

Legal issues arise in Taylor trial

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Paige Baker says she had just smoked a cigarette on her balcony and was going inside to lie down when she heard yelling at about 11:30 the night Robert Rennie died.

Testifying in Essex County Court on Friday morning, she told the jury that will decide whether Paul J. Taylor is guilty of murder that she could not discern most of what she heard.

But she heard two things clearly.

One was a man saying, “'I’m going to f******g get you,'” she said, and the other was a man saying, “'OK, I’ve had enough. Get off me,'” and then the same voice saying, “'Help me … someone please help me.'”

Baker said her balcony is situated at the front of the apartment building on AuSable Street in Keeseville, facing the Ausable River and part of River Street. The bridge near where Rennie's body was found on Aug. 26, 2012, is visible from the balcony.

Essex County Assistant District Attorney Michael Langey asked Baker whether she further investigated the disturbance.

She said she did not, saying, “I figured it was just the kids in town … who do a lot of property damage.”

'FOUR VOICES'

An aerial photograph of the land surrounding the closed bridge on River Street was displayed on a screen in the courtroom to clarify the location of Baker’s apartment for the jury — it is located on the Clinton County side of Keeseville with the bridge a little ways down the street.

Public Defender Brandon Boutelle, Taylor’s defense attorney, asked Baker whether she was sure she heard four male voices that night.

Baker said she was fairly certain she heard the voices of four men, and she was able to distinguish one from the other because of differences in pitch.

Taylor, charged with second-degree murder, felony gang assault and possession of a weapon, sat quietly next to Boutelle during the proceedings and showed little emotion.

INJURIES DETAILED

Dr. Michael Cikirika, the Rensselaer County medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Rennie’s 118-pound body, was the second and last witness to testify Friday.

The doctor said he determined Rennie’s death was caused by internal hemorrhaging and partially punctured lungs and the manner of death was homicide, as stated in the final autopsy report, which he referenced while on the stand.

“He (Rennie) wouldn’t have lived probably more than 15 minutes” after sustaining the injuries detailed in his report, he said.

After further questioning by Langey, Cikirika added that either one of those injuries alone could have been enough to cause death without medical attention — and perhaps even with it.

INTERNAL BLEEDING

Almost one-quarter of Rennie’s total blood volume had leaked into his abdominal cavity after multiple broken ribs punctured his lungs, Cikirika said.

A picture of Rennie’s liver projected on the courtroom screen showed a 5-inch tear in the soft tissue, covering a large portion of the organ.

The medical examiner used a diagram marked with the location of the injuries that was drawn up at the time of the autopsy, as well as photographs that were taken of Rennie’s body, to show the numerous bruises and cuts that marked his neck, chest, hands, abdomen, legs and feet.

In his opinion, the U-shaped bruise on Rennie’s left upper abdomen, showed to the jury on the screen, appeared to be consistent with the geometric pattern left behind by shoes, Cikirika said.

When cross-examined by Boutelle, Cikirika said there is no way for him to know for sure whether the bruises and cuts on Rennie’s body were made by shoes or boots, only that they were caused by blunt force trauma.

Toxicology testing showed Rennie’s blood-alcohol content to be between .28 and .32 at the time of his death, he said.

Langey pointed out that level is more than three times New York’s legal driving limit of .08.

Alcohol is not metabolized after death, the doctor said.

'QUESTION FOR COURT'

Scott E. Denno and Michael D. Rivers, tried for their part in the death of Rennie, 45, were both convicted of first-degree manslaughter and felony gang assault in trials earlier this year.

Boutelle wants to call Denno to the stand on Monday, but he may exercise his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, as an appeal of his conviction is still pending.

If he doesn't testify, Boutelle told the court, he wants clearance to read about two pages of Denno's Aug. 26, 2012, statements to State Police to the jury in accordance with the Declaration of Penal Interest.

The Declaration of Penal Interest, an exception to the hearsay rule, states that a person is unlikely to implicate himself in a crime unless he committed that illegal act.

In the particular statement Boutelle wants heard at trial, Denno admitted only that he and Rivers beat Rennie; he did not mention Taylor.

Sprague argued that choosing just one piece of pages of testimony is not representative of the larger story the testimony illustrates.

“How can you then pull one statement and conclude that’s the only reliable statement in a slew of statements?” she told Judge Richard B. Meyer, referring to the almost 20 hours of testimony heard at Denno’s trial.

She added that there was nothing said in Denno’s trial that would prove to or sway the jury to rule Taylor innocent.

“I guess it’s a question for the court,” Meyer replied.

INTENT TO KILL

Boutelle also told the court that it isn't proven whether Taylor intended to kill Rennie or whether a boot was the object that caused the injuries that killed him.

The attorney requested that Meyer reduce Taylor’s charges to first- and second-degree manslaughter rather than second-degree murder.

He also asked that the other charges be confined to criminally negligent homicide, first-degree attempted gang assault, second-degree gang assault and third-degree assault.

Sprague objected.

Testimony this week, she said, showed Taylor's intent to kill Rennie, when witnesses said the defendant bragged about the fight, displayed his boot on the Riverses' table and said he had “gotten him good with these Chippewas,” as well as his remark to Rennie’s ex-girlfriend Samantha LaCroix that she wouldn’t have to worry about Rennie coming to her door anymore.

The prosecution rested just after 11:30 a.m.

“At this point, there are a number of legal issues I have to decide,” Meyer told the jury members before dismissing them.

He adjourned court until 9 a.m. Monday morning because it had not yet been determined whether Denno would take the stand, as he did in his own trial.

Email Felicia Krieg: fkrieg@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @FeliciaKrieg