By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — A jury convicted Paul J. Taylor on Tuesday of murdering Robert M. Rennie, the father of two young girls.
Taylor, Scott Denno and Michael Rivers were all charged in the beating death of the Keeseville man on Aug. 25, 2012, and Taylor’s was the harshest charge: second-degree murder, along with felony gang assault and possession of a weapon.
Rennie’s family was in court Tuesday, as they have been for every day of every trial since early last summer.
They appeared visibly relieved with the jury’s decision, which came after about six hours of deliberation that included reviewing lengthy portions of witness accounts.
An audible sigh came from prosecution’s side of the galley in the courtroom, and the victim’s father, Robert J. Rennie, hugged Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague as she stepped from the court floor.
FACES LIFE SENTENCE
Taylor stared down at the table where he was standing for the verdict.
Hands clasped in front of him, he showed no reaction when the jury forewoman read their decision aloud.
He faces a maximum life in prison for this conviction.
Taylor had served 14 years — the full sentence — for a prior conviction of second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Marcus Chadwick in Moriah in 1997.
Sprague asked Essex County Court Judge Richard Meyer that Taylor be sent without bail to Essex County Jail based on his possible life sentence.
His sentencing was set for 2:30 p.m. Dec. 5.
Essex County Chief Public Defender Brandon Boutelle offered no objection, and listened as his client whispered to him with what appeared to be some urgency.
The jury’s decision ended the course of three intense trials and repeated testimony over the past five months.
“We are very relieved,” Sprague said after court closed, “and pleased the jury saw this case for what was presented.”
It was more challenging for the prosecution this time.
“We were looking at the murder two,” Sprague said, “which was a much higher burden of proof. We had to show intent to cause death, and that is hard when you have three participants in a homicide case.”
Sprague felt that eyewitness accounts, matched with solid forensic evidence, proved the case against Taylor.
“Out of all three, he was the worst offender,” she said.
Taylor’s prior conviction could not be raised in court, she said, because it’s prejudicial, showing possible propensity for him to commit another crime.
“In court, a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. We want a fair trial in every case,” Sprague said.
RAPE CHARGE PENDING
Taylor still faces a charge of first-degree rape in a separate case in Essex County Court.
He was arrested on that charge on Aug. 26, 2012, the day Rennie was found lifeless near the bridge in Keeseville. Taylor has been held in Essex County Jail ever since.
Sprague said they can advocate for the maximum penalty in the murder case, given Taylor’s prior conviction.
‘IT SURE HELPS’
Robert J. Rennie, Robert’s father, said he was very glad the process is over.
Standing in the warm midday sun on the court steps, he said the guilty verdict did bring a measure of resolution to his family’s loss.
“It doesn’t bring Robert back, but it sure helps.”
The elder Rennie was flanked by his wife, Karen; former wife, Vaida, who is Robert’s mother; son, Michael; and daughter, Sheila.
The case brings the family’s long search for justice for their son to a close, pending sentencing of both Rivers and Taylor, who were convicted of first-degree manslaughter and felony gang assault in earlier trials.
In testimony last week, Angela Rivers — who is Michael Rivers’s wife — told the court that Taylor didn’t stop kicking Rennie when she screamed at him to stop and that he told her he wasn’t finished yet.
And she and her son, Brandon, both testified that Taylor bragged about the beating.
The prosecution rested on Friday, with the defense presenting its case Monday.
Boutelle called Denno to the stand to testify. But Denno, who is appealing his conviction, refused, pleading the Fifth Amendment.
Meyer allowed the reading of a four-page statement Denno had given police, including a section where he implicated Mr. Rivers but didn’t mention Taylor.
State Police Investigator Theodore Levison took the stand and testified that Denno had told him that he hadn’t named Taylor because he was afraid of him.
Email Kim Smith Dedam:Kdedam@pressrepublican.com