By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Paul J. Taylor had a growing romantic interest in the on-again-off-again girlfriend of Robert M. Rennie, Essex County District Attorney Kristie Sprague says.
That, she said in her opening statement at Taylor's trial in Essex County Court this week, was his motive to murder Rennie, who was left fatally wounded by a gang assault by Scott E. Denno, Michael D. Rivers and allegedly Taylor on the night of Aug. 25, 2012, in Keeseville.
The defendant stands accused of second-degree murder, felony gang assault and possession of a weapon in connection with Rennie's death.
Both Denno and Rivers were found guilty of first-degree manslaughter and the assault charge at trials earlier this year.
Sprague told the court that Taylor’s actions were the most violent of the three; the more serious charge of murder requires prosecution to prove the defendant intended to cause Rennie's death.
Essex County Chief Public Defender Brandon Boutelle is representing Taylor at trial.
'BRUISES ON BODY'
One of seven witnesses slated to take the stand on Wednesday was Rennie's girlfriend, Samantha LaCroix, who didn’t look at Taylor during her testimony and stared straight ahead, speaking quietly.
The young mother of three small children, she said she met Taylor in July 2012 through her cousins Michael and Angela Rivers.
Angela was her day-care provider, LaCroix told the jury.
LaCroix said she had worked with Rivers and Taylor at an apple-packing plant at the time. She had been dating Rennie for about a year.
And she had gone to work with bruises on her body, which Rivers had seen.
“Did you continue to have contact with Robert Rennie?” Sprague asked the witness.
“Yes,” LaCroix said, admitting they saw each other nearly every night except for about two weeks after she filed for a protection order in July 2012.
She said she dated Taylor for about two days after breaking up with Rennie. After the affair ended, Taylor moved in with her, LaCroix said, because he had no place else to stay.
'DIDN'T WANT PROBLEMS'
Otherwise, Taylor did not know Rennie, LaCroix said. But both men were visiting with her and drinking together on the night of Aug. 25.
Sprague pressed LaCroix to relate any comments Taylor made about Rennie.
“They (Taylor and the Riverses) didn’t like him, and he (Taylor) was talking about beating him up,” LaCroix testified.
“He (Taylor) said he doesn’t like women beaters.
“He told me that I should forget about Robert,” LaCroix said of her conversation with the defendant that night.
She testified that she had visited with Rennie at the school that afternoon, and they had discussed working out their relationship.
LaCroix told Sprague she was concerned about Taylor meeting Rennie.
“He was staying there at my house, and I didn’t want there to be problems,” she told the jury.
Rennie had tried calling Taylor or texting him early on Aug. 25, LaCroix said.
There had never been a time before when she, Paul Taylor and Robert Rennie had been together.
Taylor arrived home at the apartment about 7 p.m. Aug. 25, the young woman testified. And she said she discussed with him that Rennie was planning to come over.
Rennie arrived about 45 minutes after Taylor had driven LaCroix to the store to buy alcohol and tobacco.
“He came upstairs and was trying to apologize to Paul for the nasty things he had said about him,” LaCroix said of the initial meeting.
“Robert stuck out his hand to shake … then Robert started putting me down in front of Paul,” she continued.
“They were both talking back and forth."
She testified that, at that point, she went into another room.
“Then they started acting like best friends,” LaCroix said of the interaction.
Taylor then said he was leaving to give her some time alone with Rennie, she said.
“Paul told me he doesn’t want to be friends with Robert … then he left.”
There was no altercation at LaCroix’s apartment, the young woman told Sprague.
Shortly after, Rennie left the apartment, too.
'PULLED ME ON HIS LAP'
LaCroix said that sometime later she had to unlock the door to let Taylor in.
“He had a smile on his face,” she said.
Taylor went into the bathroom to wash his hands, LaCroix continued, and wiped his wet hands on his shirt.
They sat and talked in the kitchen afterward, LaCroix recalled.
“Paul grabbed my arm and pulled me into his lap,” she said. “He told me I should give him a chance.
"He told me I wouldn’t have to worry about Robert Rennie knocking on my door anymore.”
LaCroix told Sprague she had tried repeatedly to text and call Rennie after he had left that night.
“Did he ever respond?” Sprague asked.
“No,” LaCroix replied.
The first few witnesses called on Wednesday morning established how and when the 45-year-old Keeseville man was found, face-down and lifeless, near the barricaded bridge at the bottom of Mill Hill Road.
Sprague showed the jury of eight women and six men photos of where Rennie’s body lay in the gravel and dirt beside the bridge.
State Police Trooper Christopher Guynup testified that he was one of the first troopers to arrive and found emergency medical technicians Polly King and Deb Winter standing near the body.
“They directed me toward a male that was unresponsive and appeared deceased,” he testified.
Guynup said he then secured a crime scene at the bottom of Mill Hill Road.
On the stand next, Trooper Andrew Cornell outline one call made to dispatch at about 11:20 p.m. Aug. 25, alerting police that Robert Rennie was visiting LaCroix in violation of an order of protection in place against him.
Cornell said that shortly after heading out to Keeseville, he was diverted by a fatal motor-vehicle accident on Interstate 87.
After returning to the station at about 6 a.m. Aug. 26, he was called to the location where Rennie’s body was found. Cornell testified that he knew Rennie from past police experiences and went to see if “his girlfriend (LaCroix)” was OK.
“We asked Samantha to come with us,” Cornell said, “At that time, Paul Taylor was at the residence.”
On cross-examination, Boutelle asked Cornell if he had arrested Rennie earlier that year, on June 12.
“Yes,” Cornell said, “on assault third degree and endangering the welfare of a child.”
Cornell said it was that incident that led to LaCroix’s request for a protection order against Rennie.
Afternoon testimony focused on evidence collection at locations associated with the assault, including LaCroix’s apartment and a parking area spattered with drops of blood on Mill Hill Road.
The jury also heard a recording of an interview with Taylor with State Police at the Keeseville barracks during the investigation.
Court resumes at 9:15 a.m. Thursday.
Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org