Monday, January 14, 2008

Was Christopher McCowen Convicted Because He is Black?

Christopher McCowen
In a truly bizarre case, Christopher McCowen, a trash collector down the Cape, was convicted of first degree murder, aggravated rape, and aggravated burglary in connection to the death of Christa Worthington, a wealthy fashion writer killed in 2002 on Cape Cod. It has recently come to light that three jurors separately approached the defense lawyer following the conviction and alleged that racial bias may have played a role in the verdict (McCowen is black and Worthington is white.)

The case itself - without the racial bias allegations - is worth a closer look. Christa Worthington's body was found by her ex-boyfriend, Tim Arnold, on January 26, 2002. She had been stabbed in the chest and was covered in blood, as was her unharmed 2 year old daughter. Arnold immediately called 911 and a three year investigation netted Christopher McCowen, whose only connection with Worthington was the fact that he collected trash from her house.

Before arresting McCowen, however, police looked at a long list of suspects because DNA evidence had been found on Worthington's body and Worthington had numerous boyfriends and lovers around Truro. One of the suspects was Tony Jackett, a married man who had an affair with Worthington on and off for two years (and the father of Worthington's 2 year old daughter Ava). Another suspect was Tim Arnold, who Worthington became involved with shortly after her affair with Jackett fell through over her pregnancy. The case seemed to stagnate for a bit (Worthington's father's 29 year old girlfriend [he was 73 and a former Massachusetts ADA] who was a prostitute and a drug addict was looked at, but was eventually ruled out) until the April 2005 arrest of McCowen.

Christa Worthington (Dateline NBC)
McCowen initially denied knowing Worthington, but eventually admitted to having consensual sex with Worthington and that his friend had committed the murder after Worthington accused him of stealing from her. Given Worthington's history, the fact that McCowen claims to have had consensual sex with her does not seem far off. In fact, Cape Cod DA Michael O'Keefe was quoted in Maria Flook's book about the case, Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod, as saying Worthington was "an equal opportunity employer. She'd [expletive] the husbands of her female friends. The butcher or the banker." Additionally, it was reported that Worthington had sex before her death - not that she was raped. This is all very interesting in light of the fact that McCowen's lawyer, Robert George, stated that police and investigators disregarded McCowen's claims of consensual sex because, "As soon as they see the black garbage man, it's rape."

The evidence at trial seemed to be lacking. While McCowen's DNA was found on Worthington's body, the crime scene itself may have been severely compromised by first responders. Additionally, physical evidence could not place McCowen at the scene of the crime, as his hand or fingerprints were not found in the Truro cabin where Worthington was slain. McCowen's "confession" came under fire as well due to police tactics during interrogation. This case was no slam dunk by any means.

Marlo George (L) and another juror (Cape Code Times)
Despite shoddy evidence, McCowen was convicted of first degree murder, aggravated rape, and aggravated burglary in 2006. But recent allegations have arisen that suggest the jurors who convicted McCowen may have been motivated by his race. One juror, Marlo George, is alleged to have said that the bruises on Worthington's body were consistent with those that "a big black man" would inflict. As opposed to a large white man? Marlo George admitted to Judge Gary Nickerson (the judge who presided over McCowen's conviction and who questioned the jurors about racial biases coming into play in deliberations) that she referred to McCowen as a "200 pound black man," but that it was only a descriptive term. This confuses me. Why would the jury need to describe McCowen? Were they not clear as to who was on trial that they had to reassure themselves that it was the big black guy?

In addition to Marlo George's comments, it seems that a lot of the jury members mocked Roshena Bohanna while sequestered for the trial for confronting Marlo George about the differences between white punches and black punches. Bohanna is also one of the jurors who approached Robert George after the trial about the racial remarks and is also accused of calling another jury member a "Southern cracker" during deliberations, so it is good that there are two other jury members who corroborate Bohanna's story. Other stories of jurors being scared of McCowen due to his race and size have come out through Nickerson's questioning.

One of the more disturbing allegations coming out of revisiting the jury deliberations is what Eric Gomes, a dark-skinned juror, allegedly said. Bohanna stated, under oath, that she heard Gomes saying that her calling out of Marlo George and her comment about Worthington's bruises looking like they came from a big black man was "why I don't like black people, because of the way she acts." She also stated that she heard him say that he hangs around white people, considers himself white, and that he has relatives who are married to whites. If what Bohanna says is true (this one could go either way), then it seems that race was at least on the forefront of some jurors's minds during the trial.

In any event, it is clear that this case needs some revisiting. A lot of allegations have been thrown around about what happened behind closed doors during jury deliberations and it appears that some of them may be true. Are all of them true? I can't say. Does McCowen deserve a new trial? Given everything that is coming out about what happened during deliberations, it does not sound like the jurors agreed that McCowen did what he was convicted of "beyond a reasonable doubt." Will Nickerson grant him a new trial? I did not really follow the trial throughout and thus I do not have a good read on the judge and which way he may lean in this one. Just the fact that he called the jurors back to court is important, however, and my gut tells me that McCowen will get a new trial. Beyond that, however, it is simply a guess.


  1. smart, thorough look at that perplexing case. thanks

  2. Maybe he was convicted because he's guilty. And some people want to use his race as an excuse to absolve him of the responsibility for committing murder.

  3. If he's guilty it doesn't matter what color he is - he's guilty.

    The issue here is that 25% of the jury went to the judge post-conviction to say that racial bias may have played a role.

    If he's guilty, grant him a new trial so the cloud of prejudice doesn't mar the verdict. If he's not guilty, a new trial unstained by prejudice ought to prove that.

    Race is not an excuse for murder - nor should it be an excuse to put someone in prison.

  4. Any case that has racial! Bias!on the jury should be retried.or grounds for mistrial. justthe fact of a crime scene being contaminated is grounds for retrial?. This is A FACT!Of Being Black!!. Who pays for a wrongful conviction?? If he's innocent. The?Bias jury ? Or the judge?