ELIZABETHTOWN — Scott E. Denno was sentenced Thursday to the maximum 25 years in prison for the beating death of a Keeseville father of two.
Denno, 20, was convicted in May of first-degree manslaughter and gang assault for his part in the Aug. 25, 2012, death of Robert M. Rennie.
Members of the Rennie family were in court, filling up nearly two rows behind the prosecution; many of them had attended every day of Denno’s trial.
Wearing chains wrapped twice around his waist and bound in handcuffs, Denno was escorted into the courtroom by two sheriff’s deputies at about 3:20 p.m.
The legal statements were succinct, with time allowed for Rennie’s family to address the court and the defendant.
“Scott Denno,” Rennie’s father, Robert J. Rennie, said, looking directly at the convicted man. “Because of false statements — you became part of the gang that killed Robert.
“We miss him every day. Now you’ll have to answer to the laws of man and God.”
The victim’s mother, Vaida Rennie, also prepared a statement, which was read by her daughter and a sister of the victim, Julie Cookingham.
Mrs. Rennie described the great degree of devastation the loss of her son has caused their entire family.
“Especially to my two young granddaughters, who are now without their father or mother,” Cookingham read her mother’s words aloud.
Her voice did not falter or crack.
With Mrs. Rennie in the courtroom, sitting beside Mr. Rennie, were three of Robert’s sisters, a brother, brothers-in-law and several cousins.
Mrs. Rennie urged the court to give Denno the maximum 25 years in prison, asking that “Scott Denno should never be allowed to live in Keeseville again.”
‘NO EXCUSE AT ALL’
Offered a chance to speak, Denno declined with a slight shake of his head.
His attorney, Joe Brennan, pleaded for a lesser sentence, contending Denno’s actions were not the primary cause of Rennie’s death. It had been the key line of defense in the case.
Brennan said there was no proof of intent to kill raised at trial, suggesting Denno’s “participation was far lesser than the other people involved.”
But Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague demanded the maximum prison time.
She said Denno is one of three men charged and one of two men convicted of killing Robert M. Rennie.
Michael D. Rivers awaits sentencing for the same crimes as Denno.
Paul J. Taylor still awaits trial on charges of second-degree murder, gang assault and weapon possession. Denno had texted Taylor the night of the attack to bring him to the spot where Rennie was.
It would be easy, Sprague said, to take the view that Denno was then “a 19-year-old kid who got caught up in something bad.”
But there was no excuse at all for his actions, she said, no excuse of intoxication — Denno had not been drinking. And no excuse of self-defense, as Rennie had been highly intoxicated and couldn’t land a punch.
Denno was involved, Sprague said, “in two separate incidents of violence: one on Front Street and one on Mill Hill. Yet the defendant claimed he played a minimal role.
“Every one of Robert Rennie’s ribs were broken. … And he,” she pointed to Denno, “he made that event happen by the phone call to Paul Taylor.”
Sprague charged that Denno has never told police the truth about what he did to Rennie that night.
And, she said, he has never shown any remorse.
“He is a young man who fears his incarceration.”
Sprague described how she has watched the Rennie family “get torn apart and put back together again” over the course of two trials.
“And all he’s worried about is how much time he will spend in prison,” she steamed, nodding toward Denno.
“Scott Denno is a young man. He will have a life after prison. Robert Rennie will not.”
‘HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE CRIME’
Judge Richard B. Meyer handed down the maximum 25 years to run concurrently on both counts, but not without a few sharp words that, at times, left the courtroom completely silent.
“For someone who grew up without a father, I would think you would have more remorse for your actions,” Meyer said.
“You committed brutal and senseless violence against a man who was defenseless.”
Meyer told Denno that the actions he participated in that night were those of vigilantes.
“Citizens cannot take the law into their own hands,” the judge said.
“There was no evidence establishing there was any order of protection (against Rennie.) None. You had no reasonable suspicion that Robert Rennie was about to commit any crime. You acted on rumors and suppositions to commit this horrible, horrible crime. “
The only right Denno had that night, the judge said, was to report his concern to police.
And with the prison sentence, Meyer told Denno, “you’ve also deprived your own child of a father.”
‘BEST CLOSING STATEMENT’
Denno’s sentence comes with a five-year post-release period of supervision.
He was charged a $5,000 fine and was ordered to pay $6,000 in claims to the New York Victims Services office for funeral costs and Rennie’s grave marker, along with court fees and fines.
“You’re still a young man,” Meyer told Denno. “But remember, Mr. Rennie has no life left.”
The judge sent Denno to Essex County Jail for processing and transport to a state prison.
After leaving the courtroom, Sprague spoke with the Rennie family.
“We can’t ask for anything more,” she said. “He has the maximum.”
Turning to Mr. and Mrs. Rennie, she said, “you guys have been here every day of this trial, and that means a lot.”
“You did the best closing statement I have ever heard,” Mr. Rennie told the DA. “You did a great job.”
And the judge, he added, “made my day.”
Asked about Robert’s two daughters, now ages 8 and 10, the family said they are concerned.
“They need a lot of help,” Mr. Rennie said.
“They talk about their father a lot,” Lori Rennie, the victim’s sister, said.
“The girls know what happened,” Cookingham said. “I’d like to see them get some help before it’s too late.”
Rivers will be sentenced next month.
Taylor’s trial begins late in September.
Email Kim Smith Dedam:firstname.lastname@example.org