Press-Republican

October 1, 2013

Essex County jury gets Taylor murder case

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — During summations in Essex County Court on Monday, the defense drew Paul J. Taylor as a victim of circumstances; the prosecution called him a shark.

The jury received the case at about 1:20 p.m. and still needed more time as court closed at 6 p.m..

They are sifting through nearly five days of testimony and evidence in the homicide death of Robert M. Rennie, a Keeseville father of two who was found lifeless on Aug. 26, 2012, at the foot of Mill Hill.

Taylor is charged with second-degree murder in connection with a beating that prosecution says caused Rennie’s death. The defendant also faces charges of gang assault and possession of a weapon, which in this case is his pair of size 14W, steel-toed boots.

The case alleges that Taylor acted in concert with Scott E. Denno and Michael D. Rivers in punching and kicking Rennie in such a vicious manner that the victim’s lungs were punctured and his liver sliced both front and back. 

Both Denno and Rivers were convicted earlier this year of first-degree manslaughter and gang assault in connection with Rennie’s death.

‘DENNO FEARED TAYLOR’

Monday’s testimony began with witnesses called by Chief Public Defender Brandon Boutelle.

Denno was brought in from Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock. Wearing a dark green prison uniform, he was shackled with heavy chains around the waist and in handcuffs. He spoke only a few words and said he would not testify.

In August, Denno was sentenced to the maximum 25 years in prison for his role in the assault, and he has filed an appeal.

Boutelle then called State Police Detective Theodore Levison, who had taken statements from Denno on the first day of the investigation.

The defense entered Denno’s second statement of three, which made no mention of Taylor’s alleged role in the beating.

“I don’t know why Paul (Taylor) didn’t go with us,” Denno had told police, denying the man had been part of the assault.

On cross-examination, Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague asked Levison to describe how Denno’s three statements unfolded.

“He left Paul (Taylor) out of it (in earlier statements) because he was afraid of him,” Levison told Sprague.

Defense rested its case about 10:37 a.m.

‘TAYLOR’S A VICTIM’

In summation, Boutelle said, “this is a case of family sticking together,” asserting that Taylor was “a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.”

Boutelle pointed to Michael Rivers’s longstanding disdain for Rennie and Scott Denno’s position as a “son” to Rivers and Rivers’s wife, Angela, who had testified early in the trial. 

And Samantha LaCroix is a cousin to Mr. Rivers, Boutelle said, who had received an order of protection against Rennie for alleged domestic violence.

“As the saying goes, don’t mess with family,” Boutelle charged. “Samantha’s cousins learned about the abuse … they wanted to protect their cousin against Robert Rennie. Their (Riverses’) actions resulted in the unintended death of Robert Rennie.”

‘NO BLOOD ON BOOT TOES’

Boutelle presented his client as a hard-working man in the summer of 2012 who was also looking for a place to stay.

He further claimed the prosecution “failed to paint a picture of a jealous ex-boyfriend” in its case against Taylor, saying Taylor’s actions with Rennie at a party with LaCroix that night “didn’t act like physical violence was on his agenda.”

“No one knows,” he said, “the extent of Rennie’s injuries” from that first altercation with Denno and Rivers on Front Street.

“Then Angela (Rivers) gets nervous, because she knows she started this whole chain of events with a phone call” reporting Rennie’s visit with LaCroix to police.

After the kicking incident, Boutelle said, Taylor had to get into the Riverses’ van and in doing so “had to step through fresh blood of Robert Rennie.”

In the month after Rennie was found, Boutelle said, the Riverses designed a plausible tale “because he (Taylor) is their scapegoat. ... They (prosecution) want you to believe Paul Taylor killed Robert Rennie in a jealous rage over a two-day relationship?”

Boutelle asked jurors to take a good look at the evidence, in particular, at Taylor’s left boot.

“Notice where the blood isn’t — on the toes,” the public defender said.

‘THE SHARK’

Sprague charged back in her closing statements.

“There is no proof to refute the fact that Paul Taylor disliked Robert Rennie,” she said of Boutelle’s case, drawing her evidence into focus.

“The defendant threatened to beat Robert Rennie. The defendant wanted to be with Samantha LaCroix. It was the defendant who told Angela Rivers, Michael Rivers and Scott Denno that Robert Rennie was at the apartment that night. … Two (witnesses) told you that he wanted Robert Rennie out of the way,” Sprague charged.

“The shark (Taylor) saw the blood in the water and attacked. The defendant saw blood in the water — the opportunity to solve his problem.”

Putting a photo of Rennie’s lifeless body on the overhead screen, she asked, “Does that look like a man who could resist three very big men?”

The medical examiner testified that a steel-toed boot could cause the fatal injuries that killed Robert Rennie, Sprague said.

“(Taylor’s) own friend (Michael Rivers) tried to stop him because he knew Paul Taylor was going too far. … He (Taylor) continued to kick. 

“Ladies and gentleman, that is intent of murder.”

‘SOLID CASE’

Grabbing Taylor’s left boot from a pile of evidence, Sprague placed it forcefully on the podium.

Blood was not on the bottom of the boot, she said, pointing to the eyelet where it was found, to the upper regions of the boot and to the side of the sole.

There wasn’t more blood, she reiterated, because one-quarter of Rennie’s blood was found inside his chest cavity.

“And this we would call a solid case. The people need not prove it was premeditated. There was no plan or conspiracies by the Riverses,” Sprague said.

Then she repeated the statement LaCroix said Taylor made after he came home that night: “You don’t have to worry about Robert Rennie knocking on your door anymore.”

This was said, Sprague said, hours before Rennie was found dead.

LESSER CHARGES

Instructions to the jury from Essex County Judge Richard B. Meyer outlined the definition of second-degree murder, which carries intent — a conscious objective to cause serious injury to another person.

If the jury does not find Taylor guilty of second-degree murder, then its members will consider first-degree manslaughter then second-degree manslaughter as lesser included offenses.

They also must decide if Taylor is guilty of gang assault and possession of a weapon.

Shortly before 3 p.m., the jury asked the court to re-read aloud the full testimony of LaCroix and of Mrs. Rivers.

The review took nearly three hours.

The jury is expected to continue deliberation at 9 a.m. today.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com