A former trash collector was convicted Thursday in the rape and murder of a fashion writer who was found lying in a pool of blood in her Cape Cod home with her 2-year-old daughter clinging to her body.
Christopher McCowen, 34, was found guilty of first-degree murder, rape and burglary in the January 2002 killing of Christa Worthington, 46.
“Your honor, all I can say is I’m an innocent man in this case,” McCowen said after thanking the judge and court officers for showing him respect during the six-week trial.
Judge Gary Nickerson sentenced McCowen to life in prison without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, to be served concurrently with life sentences for aggravated rape and aggravated murder.
The jury in McCowen’s trial had been deadlocked after a week of deliberations when it was forced to start deliberations anew on Tuesday after one member was replaced for comments she made on a phone call about coverage of the trial.
McCowen, a garbage man in the small town of Truro, where Worthington lived, initially denied having any physical contact with her. But after police told him his DNA was found on her body, McCowen said they had consensual sex and he had beaten her, but he said his friend plunged the knife through her chest.
“We put the boots to her,” McCowen said, according to police. The friend was never charged.
McCowen shook his head as the verdict was read.
Under Massachusetts law, first-degree murder convictions carry automatic sentences of life in prison without parole, and the convictions automatically appealed. McCowen’s sentencing was scheduled for later Thursday.
One juror cried as the verdict was read, and she bit her lip and her voice quivered as she said “guilty” when polled by the court officer.
McCowen’s attorney Robert George had reminded jurors that police had focused on Worthington’s former boyfriends during a three-year investigation before arresting McCowen in April 2005.
Consensual-sex claim disputed
George said police only decided Worthington was raped because they could not believe that McCowen — a black, uneducated garbage man — could have had consensual sex with Worthington — a white, sophisticated woman who worked for years as a fashion writer in New York and Paris.
George also said police failed to seriously consider a report from a neighbor who said he saw a white man driving a dark-colored van or truck speeding out of Worthington’s driveway about 12 hours after police believe she was killed.
Although the friend McCowen named was never charged in Worthington’s death, the jury was instructed that they could find McCowen guilty of murder even if they believed the friend actually killed Worthington. Under the state’s joint criminal venture theory, if the jury determined both men participated in the killing, they could hold McCowen responsible.
The original jury in the case deliberated more than 28 hours over five days before declaring Monday it was deadlocked. Judge Gary Nickerson ordered the jurors to keep trying and sequestered them, but on Tuesday, he removed a juror after she was recorded talking to her jailed boyfriend about media reports of the case and disparaging police.
The defense had argued that changing the jury at that point destroyed McCowen’s chances for a fair trial, but the judge refused to dismiss the charges.