You can't see the weathered gray cottage from the road, but look up from the salt marsh and there it is, perched on the bluff. It’s nothing fancy. That’s the way Yankees like it.
For years an old Cape Cod family had made it a simple summer retreat.
For the last member of this family to live there, Christa Worthington, the shingled home offered a place to catch her breath and take stock after the fast track years of New York and Paris, of the hollowness.
In the solitude of winter in the sand dunes, the sea air was what her soul craved. The latest chapter in Christa's life had been all about the Cape. Making sophisticated simple again.
Jay Mulvaney [family friend]: She was always a writer. She'd always wanted to be a writer.
She'd always wanted to be a mother, but also thought she wouldn't be able to. Then along came Ava. Things hadn't looked so upbeat for Christa in a good while.
Melik Kaylan [friend]: And then some great unexpected claw comes out and tears everything apart.
When it seems nothing can go wrong, cynics might tell you to expect the worst.
The worst did happen, on a cold January after midnight, kicking its way through the screened kitchen door.
The mother and baby were alone and exposed. The gray cottage was no longer the nurturing shelter but a secluded killing ground.
Maria Flook [writer]: Everybody responded to this murder and the horror of it.
Christa Worthington, 46, was found in her home, naked from the waist down, dead of a savage knife wound to the chest.
A neighbor and former boyfriend found her after she'd been dead for as long as a day and a half.
Maria Flook: (reading) "He looked in and saw her laying on the floor, with her baby huddled beside her, and he said the baby looked up and he went and picked her up and discovered that Christa wasn't responsive."
There hadn't been a murder there in 30-years and then this.
The accomplished fashion writer and Vassar grad was killed in such a brutish manner. She was in her own home, with her baby trying to nurse for hours from her dead mother.
The question was both “Why?” and “Who?”
Mulvaney: You leave your doors open. You leave your keys in your car when you go shopping. You do all this sort of stuff. There's a level of trust in these small communities.
It's a trust that can quickly turn into suspicion against neighbors when the natural order is upset. Soon, Christa's old lovers were pulled into the riptide of the murder investigation.
Dennis Murphy [Dateline correspondent]: You became the suspect early on...Tony Jackett: They helped make me be the suspect.
Before it was through, a proud old community would be accused of losing its moral compass.
Bob George [attorney]: Race hovers and class bias hovers over the whole thing … In this particular case, the two are the one.
Christa Worthington was a child of New England privilege when she went to Vassar in the late '70s.
Riding the zeitgeist of the era's Have-It-All Feminism, Christa took on New York City after graduation and shared an apartment there with a former classmate, Jay Mulvaney.
Jay Mulvaney: Just talking about what we wanted to do and how -- how just really you know, just exciting it was to sort of be there.
Christa was a facile writer and quickly found work writing for various magazines, fashion stuff mostly.
In the '80s the gods of the catwalk were Lauren LaCroix and Versace. Keeping a bemused and savvy eye on the scene was Christa Worthington.
Kaylan: She was very good at it. She had a tremendous facility for writing ... a wide open quality to her writing.
Another old friend from those days, Melik Kaylan, recalls Christa's gift for turning the lighter-than-air fluff of the fashion world into absorbing and readable copy.
Her chops for the job won her an enviable ringside seat as the collections were strutted out every season, first in New York, then in Europe.
Kaylan: She was sort of a glitzy phenomenon. She was the head of the Women's Wear Daily bureau in Paris, and knew all the designers and knew how to live well over there.
But her friends say that have-it-all Christa lacked one important knack: the ability to pick out the right guy to have a relationship with.
While colleagues and friends from her college days were getting married and having babies, her magnetic north was set on Mr. Wrong time and time again.
Soon, even her strong suit -– her career -- was looking frayed at the edges and very last year.
She was trapped by her success.
By the early '90s, Christa was antsy and ready to fly her gilded coop. Maybe she would try writing a novel, she thought. She wanted a change of scenery, to swap the city for the place she'd been a child in during summers.
She came to rest in the outer cape of Massachusetts in a town called Truro, on a swath of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay.
It is still full of wild and beautiful dunes and scrub pine and oak. Squint away a few houses and it looks very much as it must have to the Pilgrims when they rowed ashore here and stole corn from the Indians.
Maria Flook: We even have an area of Truro called Corn Hill.
Maria Flook is a resident of Truro and a writer, like Christa.
She knows what that thing is about the solitude of the Cape off-season that has appealed to artists for over a hundred years.
Flook: People who have a life of the mind like to come there and spend the quiet months in Truro.
She also had family here. Grandmother Worthington had built a home in Truro years ago. This was home.
Dennis Murphy: This is a name that goes back?Flook: The Worthington family's been in the Truro area for about 100 years.
In fact, some believe the Worthingtons helped saved this area during the Great Depression.
Christa's grandfather put the locals to work in his fish processing plant while grandmother Worthington turned the idea of the fishermen's reliable old nets into something both marketable and tres chic.
But Maria, the writer, said Christa in no way flaunted or traded on her famous family name.
Flook: I think she wanted her privacy. She wanted peace and solitude and she wanted to make new connections.
And one of those new connections was someone she could see everyday from the porch of her grandmother's old tumble-down bungalow by the docks.
He was a one-time fisherman, a good looking guy with a mop of wiry hair: Tony Jackett.
Tony Jackett: And through the summer she would come over and you now, we got to be friendly.Dennis Murphy: Little bit of flirtation going on?Jackett: Yeah.
This became that and pretty soon they were consenting adults with a semi-regular routine of afternoon delights, as Tony remembers their affair.
But Tony wasn't just a consenting adult -- he was also a married father of six.
Tony says Christa knew all about his wife and never made claims on him other than in the bedroom. She told him it would be about laughs and sex. She was in her forties and told him doctors had said a baby for her was out of the question.
The fisherman bought the arrangement, as they say, hook, line and sinker. Before he could see it coming, he was living a life out of a cheap romance novel.
The wave was big, unexpected and threatened to sweep him right away.
The first shock came when Christa broke some stunning news.
Dennis Murphy: Do you think she manipulated you into becoming a father?Tony Jackett: [silence]
If you're ever out on the beach in Provincetown, Mass. -- the place at the very end where Cape Cod coils in a kind of fist -- you might see a man wading in the sea, looking down in the water. It's Tony Jackett and he's on the job in his position of monitoring the health of the oyster beds in town.
Jackett: The shellfish are really very important in keeping our coastal waters clean. They work like a treatment plant.
Jackett is a fisherman's son, a genial guy, who is sort of the unelected mayor of main street Provincetown.
Jackett: You do have those familiar faces ... Even if you don't know them really well, you see them on a regular basis and if you have that friendly smile ... I think that's one of the real charms of the town.
Because Provincetown is what it is -- a charming 19th century village favored by artists, writers and gay men and women -- you might think that blue-collar fishermen's descendants wouldn't fit into such an eclectic community.
But Tony and the other sons of fishermen are welcomed to be part of Provincetown's rich chowder of individualists.
One of Tony's longtime friends is avant-garde artist Jay Critchley. Provincetown is his love.
Jay Critchley: It's like an onion. There's one layer of culture over another layer of culture over another layer of culture. So there's always exciting, interesting people coming into town.
It didn't strike Tony's artist friend as strange that the onetime fisherman would strike up a relationship across class lines with a Vassar grad who'd been a top fashion writer in New York and Paris.
Critchley: He started telling me about this relationship he was having with Christa.Dennis Murphy: Did you know who she was?Critchley: Well, I knew the Worthington family.Murphy: That's a name here, isn't it?Critchley: That's a name.
Tony told him he'd fallen into an easy sex, no-strings-attached-affair in the summer of 1997 with the flirtatious woman in the shack across from where he worked as a Truro harbormaster.
There were no strings attached, that is, until Christa broke the news.
Jackett: I was in a state of shock, because she had reassured me there was no way that she could get pregnant. Doctors had told her she couldn't get pregnant.
But she was pregnant and Tony Jackett, the married father of six, was about to be the father of seven. He thought Christa had used him and set him up.
Jackett: She was, you know, looking to have a baby basically. And looking back on how things took place, you know …Murphy: Do you think she manipulated you into becoming a father?Jackett: Most definitely.
They talked about arrangements and ever-independent Christa assured Tony, he says, that she'd raise the baby on her own in her father's weathered gray bungalow above the salt pond.
Tony said he broke up with Christa not long after that, and he didn't even tell his wife when a baby with a mop of Brillo hair like his was born and named Ava.
Village whispers started.
Critchley: The baby does look like Tony. Has a Tony look.Murphy: That would cause people to chatter a little bit, right?Critchley: It would. It would. It did.
But then, according to Tony Jackett, Christa changed the ground rules on raising the baby. Now she wanted Tony to publicly acknowledge the child and tell his wife.
He was convinced that Christa wanted to haul him in like a catch in one of those famous Worthington family nets.
Jackett: I think the reason why she told me that she was pregnant was she might be hoping that I would leave my wife to be with her … She, I think, got vindictive because she got rebuked.
But you could look at it and say that Christa had had her fill of Tony and was moving past him. More than a year after the baby was born, she was coping with the emotional turmoil of yet another failed romance.
This time the boyfriend was an artist who lived near her cottage. He was named Tim Arnold and he talked to local writer Maria Flook when she set down an account of the Christa Worthington story in a book.
Arnold, the neighbor, said the affair had been as brief as it was turbulent.
Flook: I think he was very genuine in his affection for Christa's daughter. I think that Tim had at least for a time been very in love with Christa.
Months into the relationship, she called it quits with her artist neighbor. Longtime friends detected some restlessness in Christa. Her decades-back Manhattan roommate thought she might be considering a return to fashion writing.
Mulvaney: She was putting her foot back in to see about getting back in.
It was a tempting idea that may have burned more brightly over the Christmas holidays in 2001 when she took Ava to New York with her.
There were rounds of glittering cocktail parties and reconnecting with old friends.
Perhaps she was still turning it all over in her mind a week later when she returned to the solitude of the Cape in the dead of winter.
The last picture that would be taken of Christa Worthington alive would be a security camera that captured her in a moment of domestic drudgery, pushing Ava through the aisles of a local market.
Cape Cod after the holidays, in dreary January, is a test of whether one's a true year-rounder or not. There are short days of light and sometimes vicious gales off the Atlantic.
Christa Worthington came back from her holiday parties in New York. She and Ava had returned to the cottage on the bluff.
During that first Sunday of the new year, virtually every TV on the Cape was tuned to a game: New England romping over Carolina on its way to the Super Bowl.
At half-time, Tim Arnold thought it would be a good opportunity to return a flashlight he'd borrowed from his old girlfriend and neighbor, Christa.
Arnold would say later that he noticed something off right away: two weekend newspapers still in their blue wrappers. Christa's back door was ajar.
He looked in and saw Christa sprawled on the floor, the baby lifting her head to look at him. It was clear, he said, there was nothing he could do for Christa at that point. He grabbed two-and-half-year-old Ava and rushed outside to his father waiting in the car.
He had to spell it, because he knew that Ava might understand the word. He said, Christa's d-e-a-d.
Murphy: Clearly dead?Welsh: Yeah.Murphy: Not much doubt?Welsh: Right.
Tim Arnold can be heard on the 911 tape.
Arnold: Please send somebody to 50 Depot Road.911: Okay, what's the problem?Arnold: It's Christa Worthington. I don't know what happened. I think she fell down or something. I'm sure she's dead. I think she's dead.
EMTs, police and relatives who lived across the road swarmed the cottage -- roughly 18 people -- before police sealed the crime scene.
And what a gruesome sight it was.
Christa Worthington, 46, was naked from the waist down, laying on her hallway floor. Her right leg was jammed inside a bookcase.
Rob Welsh: I think anyone analyzing the crime scene would suspect a sexual assault, just based on the nature, the way the body was found.
Rob Welsh, then Barnstable County assistant district attorney, says investigators quickly found a one-inch sized hole in her upper chest. It was evidence that she'd been stabbed.
Dennis Murphy [Dateline]: The fatal wound was so thorough that the knife actually lodged in the wood beneath Christa's body?Welsh: It didn't lodge there but it certainly passed through her body.
The murder weapon itself was nowhere to be found, but crime-scene technicians did gather useful forensic samples: strands of hair, semen and saliva on the body, blood smears and outside in her driveway, signs of a violent struggle.
Welsh: There appeared to be signs of a scuffle. There appeared to be personal items of Christa's -- a hair barrette, her eyeglasses, socks --were found outside the area. It wasn't a situation where something happened inside the home then out. It was out then in.
It was a shocking murder that became national news.
The Massachusetts state police took charge of the case and started where most investigations do -- with those who knew the victim best. The cops asked: did someone in her circle have reason to do her harm?
Dennis Murphy: Christa Worthington is murdered, and the person that has the means, the motive, the opportunity...Jackett: Me.Murphy: Is Tony?Jackett: Right.
Tony Jacket, the onetime fisherman and father of Christa's baby, sensed the heat on him right away. After all, everyone seemed to know about his history with Christa. Maybe something happened in a rage?
Dennis Murphy: The father of the baby. She's putting the squeeze on him--Jackett: And yet ... they didn't think that initially. And they knew that we were getting along just ... splendidly.
Jackett was questioned but never arrested. Investigators had already turned their attention to someone else in her circle of boyfriends, the artist friend who'd found her body.
Dennis Murphy: She dumped him. Maybe there some motive.Welsh: He was certainly somebody, as a former boyfriend of Christa Worthington and the person who found the body, as somebody that would be talked to.
And talk they did, but Arnold never wavered in his account. Christa was his friend, he said, he didn't kill her.
Police moved on to other men in her life, even questioning Tony Jackett's former son-in-law. He got pulled into the case, he said, when a neighbor of Christa's told the cops what he called made-up stories about him and Christa having had a casual thing. "Very tough stuff," he says. "You’ve got to understand something about the lower Cape. Innuendo, gossip and rumor are an Olympic sport down there. People have nothing better to do, mostly, with their time."
The authorities’ rejected-lover theories were going nowhere. As Ava went to live with friends of Christa as her mother had wished, years were going by in the investigation. No weapon, no witnesses, no idea who'd left the DNA on the victim's body.
And then, to the surprise of many and outrage of others, the police buttonholed scores of men in Truro, asking for their DNA. They wanted samples of saliva for testing.
Dennis Murphy: Was that an investigative ruse just to shake the tree and see what kind of response you got from the community?Rob Welsh: A certain amount of it, I'm sure, could be said to be shaking the tree.
But nothing shook loose.
There was no DNA match. There was no rattled killer coming forth to confess it all.
It was three years before police caught a break, and it came from a direction few people had given much thought.
The cops said that forensic evidence told them -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- they finally had their man.
It had been a frustrating slog for the Massachusetts State Police; the Cape Cod winter was as cold as their three-year investigation into the murder of Christa Worthington.
Then came a sudden, unexpected announcement in the thaw of spring in 2005.
Rob Welsh [prosecutor]: Last night at approximately 7:15 p.m., detectives from the Massachusetts State Police detective unit assigned to my office arrested Christopher A. McCowen, age 33, for the 2002 murder of Christa A. Worthington.
The arrest was triggered by when forensic evidence found on the victim matched the DNA of one man. But the people of Cape Cod were in for a surprise when they saw the person the police had in handcuffs.
It wasn’t an old lover, the the state was now saying. Far from it.
Assistant District Attorney Rob Welsh said the laboratory match would be the foundation of his rape and murder charges against Christopher McCowen.
Welsh: He was an individual who worked for the garbage company. There was no evidence that he knew Christa Worthington … beyond simply picking up the garbage and perhaps occasionally waving.
Because Christa was a customer on his garbage pick-up route, McCowen was someone investigators interviewed just after the murder. A year later they went back to him for a DNA saliva sample and still another year passed before they got around to testing it.
The forensic tardiness was an embarrassment to the cops but once the match was finally made the fog of suspicion lifted from Christa's former lovers, who were no longer suspects.
Tony Jackett: There's a sense of relief. You know -- it's been an ordeal from the very beginning.
The prosecutor got ready for what might be a career-making case.
Welsh: I have not been in a case that has garnered so much media attention ... or one that lasted so long.
More than four years after her death, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was ready to try someone for the murder of Christa Worthington.
Seated in the venerable colonial-era courtroom of Barnstable, Mass., the defendant had pleaded not guilty to the charges of first degree murder, aggravated sexual assault and burglary.
In his opening statement, the prosecutor told the jury that on the last night of her life, Christa had come face-to-face with Christopher McCowen. There was a struggle and she lost. She was raped and stabbed in the chest on her hallway floor.
Welsh: Her death was not instantaneous, she had bruises and abrasions all over her body ... And this defendant was completely indifferent to her suffering.
The prosecution's first witness put another exclamation point to the ghastly story.
Tim Arnold, the onetime boyfriend, told the jury his account of returning a borrowed flashlight on a Sunday afternoon, only to find Christa sprawled off the kitchen with her daughter Ava apparently nursing from her, or so he thought.
Arnold: I saw Ava's head pop up, but her mother didn't answer.Welsh: And what was the next thing that happened, sir?Arnold: I went over to see what was the matter. There was blood around her head.
The prosecutor painted a picture of the frantic arrival at the isolated cottage of police officers, paramedics and family members from across the road.
Paramedic: We actually wanted to cover the victim in the nearest thing that was -- that we found was a -- an afghan that was on a couch nearby.
Crime scene experts recounted how they recovered semen, saliva and skin cells found on the victim. The state's DNA expert, Christine Lamire, told the jury of the DNA match she found to one those samples in her lab.
The odds of the genetic material belonging to anyone other than Christopher McCowen was astronomical.
Welsh: One in 199.8 billion match, is that correct?Lamire [DNA expert]: In the African-American population, yes.
There were two supporting pillars in the case against McCowen: the DNA that lab experts said was his and the story he later told police when he was confronted about that evidence.
The lead investigator in the interview with McCowen after his arrest was state trooper Christopher Mason. The session lasted six hours.
Dennis Murphy: And then the officers question him in there what -- how many stories, five, six different stories, huh?Welsh: There were numerous versions told.
The police didn't tape record McCowen's interview, but they did draw up a 29-page statement later.
Here's the story police say he finally settled on:
McCowen said that after a Friday night of partying, he and a friend drove to Christa's house around 1:30 a.m. McCowen said that after he and Christa had consensual sex in the living room, she heard his buddy in a room next door stealing things.
Christa, furious, confronted the friend in the driveway outside the house. A fight ensued, and the two men beat the helpless woman into unconsciousness.
Rob Welsh: I believe the quote is 'I still can hear her head hit the ground. She hit the ground hard.'
Then the state trooper says McCowen described how he watched his friend drag the woman back inside her home. The trooper said McCowen even drew a layout of the interior of the house.
And driving the knife into her chest? The trooper said McCowen claimed innocence, saying his buddy actually did the murder.
That buddy, a truck driver named Jeremy Frazier, testified and denied ever going to the Worthington house with McCowen after their night of partying.
Saying that he and McCowen went their separate ways that night, Frazier claimed he crashed on another friend's couch to sleep off his buzz.
Welsh: There was no physical evidence linking Jeremy Frazier to the scene … We weren't going to charge Jeremy Frazier. Jeremy Frazier had an alibi.
During the trial, the prosecutor asked point blank: “Did you kill Christa Worthington?”
Frazier’s response? "No, I didn't."
The prosecutor had finished the methodical brickwork of his case against Christopher McCowen.
He then told the jury how the murder likely happened -- how the crunch of a car up the driveway must have jolted Christa Worthington awake; her stepping outside to confront an unexpected visitor. It was one man, not two.
"The defendant Christopher McCowen went up to Christa Worthington's house early Saturday morning between 1:30 and 2:00 looking for sex," Welsh told jurors.
Welsh: She's really beaten to the point of helplessness ... dragged to that door, the door is forced in and then she's raped, stabbed.Dennis Murphy [Dateline correspondent]: What a horrendous end.Welsh: It is a horrendous end.
But it's not the defense's account of that night.
They claim Christopher McCowen didn't kill Christa Worthington, and one of New England's most able criminal defense lawyers was about to tell the jury why the cops had arrested the wrong man.
The prosecution had presented a streamlined case against Christopher McCowen. It claimed the garbage collector went to Christa Worthington's house after midnight for sex, and then he stabbed her through the chest. The DNA and his statement to police back it up, argued the prosecutor.
But now the jury would hear from McCowen's defense lawyer Bob George, and the high-profile Boston attorney had a completely different interpretation of events.
Bob George [defense attorney]: Three or four other men were accused at one point or another of killing Christa Worthington.
The defense lawyer began by telling the jury that this was nothing more than a rush to judgement against his client. It was true, he conceded, that Christopher McCowen's DNA was found on Christa Worthington.
But investigators, he charged, let racial stereotypes cloud their vision.
George: As soon as they see the black garbage man it's rape, not just rape, aggravated rape, because this woman would never have had sex with a garbage man unless it's rape.
But attorney George said that's just what happened. Christa Worthington had sex -- consensual sex -- with McCowen three days before her body was found.
George: He went up there Thursday. Went to talk with her about removing her Christmas tree. A sexual event occurred in the living room. And then he left.Dennis Murphy [Dateline correspondent]: She comes onto him?George: Yep, and--Dennis Murphy: That's his story?George: As far as the details of what happened, he said that it was a consensual, sexual event. A mutual affair.
Which is why, the lawyer said, his client's DNA was found on Christa. What's more, he asked the jury to be skeptical of all the crime scene evidence that had been introduced.
George: You don't have to be on the staff of CSI to know that this is not a good crime scene … You've got so many vehicles in the driveway, it's like a traffic jam at Times Square. You see fingerprints from the entire police department and fire departments, it's Truro in the house ... all over the house.
Exhibit "A" in the defense's theory that the forensics had been hopelessly tainted was the blanket that an arriving paramedic had draped over the half-naked body for decency's sake.
That blanket, it turned out, had semen on it, belonging not to Christopher McCowen but to Tim Arnold, Christa's old boyfriend.
The implication was that Arnold may have been the last to have seen Christa alive.
Or was it someone else? The lawyer pointed out that crime scene technicians had collected another swab of semen from Christa's body -- semen the state never tested.
Since Christa was known to have been intimate with several men, the untested semen, he argued, may have belonged to one of those lovers.
The defense lawyer asked a crime scene forensics expert why they didn't test the specimen and look for a match.
George [defense attorney]: Was that semen swab ever tested in this case?Saferstein: I have no evidence of that.George: Was it ever compared to standards that you saw were submitted for Tim Arnold or anyone else in this case?Saferstein: I have no evidence of that.
DNA testing cuts both ways.
It can accuse the guilty or clear the innocent. McCowen's lawyer thought the failure to test the DNA on that swab was a grave mistake.
George: I'm trying to tell you: You could have exonerated Chris McCowen if it wasn't his semen on the external swab.
Claiming the forensic collection and testing was bungled was the defense's response to the first part of the evidence against McCowen -- his DNA that was found on the victim.
As for the second part, the police statement given by McCowen that sounded to some ears like a partial confession, the defense answered that by arguing police intimidated McCowen into signing a false statement after six hours of relentless questioning.
The defense called an expert witness, a psychologist, to explain to the jury how someone with a 78 IQ like McCowen could be browbeaten by authorities into signing a false confession. "An individual like that would get twisted up in responses," said the psychologist, :Would say one thing at one point would say something else later on ... just out of sheer confusion."
They used high-pressure pysch games, said the defense. And under questioning lawyer George got Tim Arnold, one of Christa's former boyfriends, to say he endured the same police tactics when he came under suspicion.
Even the former son-in-law of Tony Jackett said he was shaken when the cops put him in the hot seat, saying "My heart was racing, my body was covered in sweat, I was drenched in sweat and my head was kind of very light and spinning and I wasn't really able to think straight and correctly."
Were the cops heavy-handed interviewing suspects? We'll never know, because the cops also failed to tape record their interrogations. Everyone in court was poorer because of that decision.
So if McCowen didn't kill Christa, who did? His defense lawyer seemed to suggest it was his party buddy, Jeremy Frazier.
Frazier told the prosecution he'd been sleeping off a buzz on a friend's couch when Christa was murdered. But on the stand, under defense grilling, that friend who'd given Frazier both a place to sleep and an alibi added a twist to his version of events.
He acknowledged that the first time he talked to police he told them he didn't know where Frazier spent the night.
George [defense attorney]: When they first talked to you about Jeremy Frazier staying at your house, you didn't confirm that in any way did you?Friend: No, like I said I didn't want to get involved in any of this cause I knew I would have to come back up here and get my life rearranged.
But in his closing, Bob George made it clear that he didn't have to prove who did kill Christa Worthington -- only that the state's case against his client was full of holes, from that tainted crime scene, to the forensic testing, to the interrogation.
"Restore him to his family and find him not guilty of these three indictments. Thank you," said George to jurors.
It was now the jury's case to consider. There were boxes of evidence, photos and DNA science. But the courtroom drama was far from over. It had only moved a few feet to the deliberation room. Twelve strangers were about to give legal veterans more than a few surprises.
As the hours stretched into days and the days into more than a week, some wondered if the jury would ever reach a verdict.
Inside the 300-year old Barnstable, Mass, courtroom, the people versus Christopher McCowen had gone to the jury. Even with DNA evidence and a damning statement to police that put him at the murder scene, it was not so clear-cut a case for the jurors.
Day one turned into day two. At the end of day three of inconclusive deliberations, courtroom spectators sensed they were in for a long jury watch.
Dennis Murphy [Dateline]: The pundits are out there saying "These guys are never coming back."Karen [juror]: We were ... methodical in our deliberating.Eric [juror]: A woman died and the guy is facing life in prison. It wasn't something that we would we were taking lightly.
We talked to four of the jurors later about their tedious review of every bit of evidence presented them: photos, police statements, testimony as recollected in their personal notes.
There was a division in the jury: A ten-to-two split.
Eric: Two undecided. I can't speak for them.Murphy: They were saying “’til hell freezes over”?Eric: At times. At times. (laughs)
The jury sent the judge a note saying it was at an impasse. He sent them back into the jury room to give it another try.
These jurors told Dateline the biggest stumbling block was the statement McCowen gave to the police. Was it a confession or not?
Eric: It was very incriminating. He was incriminating himself all over the place.
The problem was that the police had elected not to tape that interview so jurors had to rely on the officers' summary of the interrogation.
Jurors asked themselves, “What exactly did McCowen say?” It was a question they couldn't answer.
Dennis Murphy: His statement, which really implicated himself in the crime, was a wash for you?Taryn [juror]: I really didn't use it.Murphy: You didn't treat it as good evidence?Taryn: No ... and I know there were other people in the jury room that felt...Eric: Which I believe helped the defendant ... it probably helped him out.
Once they decided to discount the McCowen police statement, they turned to the box of evidence itself and spent a great deal of time studying crime scene photos, trying to understand for themselves what the pictures told them.
Taryn: We had actual testimony that Christa's foot had been placed inside of a bookcase ... In that, in her position. And at the time of her death, her foot was still in the bookcase.
That single observation -- Christa's foot wedged awkwardly in the bookcase -- told them that she had been unconscious when raped. There had been no consensual sex.
It was a point for the prosecution but the jurors also agreed with the defense's argument that the crime scene had been trampled upon and tainted and the authorities had failed to test critical evidence.
Taryn: Lack of testing that could have happened that didn't happen … It was extremely frustrating for me.
The closed-door debate went on for eight days. One juror was dismissed and an alternate put on. The courthouse bet was on a hopelessly hung jury. But finally after one fresh-eyed review from top to bottom, the twelve took a vote and they had it. They had a unanimous verdict.
In court, it began: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury..."
The defendant, Christa's friends and family, all were waiting to hear the words.
Dennis Murphy [Dateline]: Did you look at him as it was read?Matt [juror]: I did, I did. I thought to myself “Hmmm… this guy's life about to change forever,” and it did.
The clerk read the verdict: guilty on all counts.
Despite their problems with the prosecution's case, the jurors believed the evidence they had -- and didn't have -- spoke loudly to the defendant's guilt.
His claim to police that his buddy Jeremy Frazier had actually plunged the knife into Christa's chest was thought not plausible.
Matt [juror]: We didn't find any evidence there that Jeremy Frazier was there ... other than Christopher McCowen saying that he was there. There was no fingerprints, no DNA, nothing.
The jury didn't buy into the defense's theory that an enraged former lover did it, and they rejected the defense claim that McCowen and Christa had had consensual sex days before her murder and that’s how his DNA was on her.
Laura [juror]: Previously, he had said that he never had any prior contact with her, that she would decide to bring a person into the house with a two year old daughter. Dennis Murphy: So the circumstances of this alleged contact didn't make sense to you?Laura: Right.
In the end, the critical piece of evidence for the jury was what had always been at the center of the case.
Taryn: The evidence of the DNA, and the testimony of the DNA specialist.
And there was only disgust for the defense's playing of the race card.
Eric: Cheap shot.Taryn: It was insulting to us as a jury.Eric: I think, of course, he was going to say something like that but I think it's a cheap shot.
Troubling as it was to send a man to prison for what would turn out to be a life sentence, they could not forget their impressions of Christa Worthington's final moments in the gray house by the sea and her confused daughter finding the body.
Taryn: I have a two-year-old at home, I used to go home every night and look at him and think if this happened to me, what would he do?
Ava is eight now, under the care of Krista's friends, a married couple, as stipulated in her will.
Her father, Tony Jackett, says he sees his daughter on a regular basis. But he still feels bitter that his custody claim evaporated in the weeks following the murder, when he was a figure of interest, as the cops say.
Dennis Murphy [Dateline]: You've kissed off any dreams that she's going to be raised by you?Jackett: Yeah. I've accepted that. I made a decision, even though I did it under duress. I felt bullied into it and I felt it was wrong.
For Christa's friends, who spent time with her in that place where land meets sea, there are only memories left.
"I remember her on the beach in Truro with Ava … that area is famous for its light and it's a luminous place and she was that kind of person also, and I remember thinking of her as very much a part of that landscape."
The Cape with its roiling seas is emerging from gray, leafless winter. The shingled house above the pond, the family cottage that once offered a world-weary woman solace, waits like the others for the return of the luminous light.
Since the trial ended, two of the jurors have claimed the deliberations were tainted by racism.
Both have filed affidavits in court claiming some of their fellow jurors made racist comments about the defendant.
Earlier this month, the judge ordered a hearing to explore the claims of racial bias.
To find out more about the Worthington family history on Cape Cod, check out the following library online:
The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University
The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute collects manuscripts, books, and other materials essential for understanding women's lives and activities in the United States. Among the library's holdings are the papers of important women in history, including suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony and aviator Amelia Earhart; a collection of more than 2,500 unique manuscripts of individuals, families, and organizations; and a culinary collection spanning five centuries and several global cuisines. The library's collections and services encourage research and promote knowledge of United States history in all its dimensions. For more information, visit .