BARNSTABLE, Mass. – 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, by a jury that deadlocked after five days and was forced to start deliberations anew Tuesday after one member was replaced.
"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 gave him the automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, plus concurrent life sentences for aggravated rape and aggravated murder.
McCowen, who was Worthington's garbage man, initially denied having any physical contact with her. But after police told him his DNA was found on her body, McCowen said he had consensual sex with her and beat her, but that his friend had plunged the knife through her chest.
"We put the boots to her," McCowen said, according to police. His friend was never charged.
McCowen cried as the jury came into the courtroom, and his attorney, Robert George, wiped tears from his eyes with the sleeve of his suit coat. McCowen bowed and shook his head "no" as the verdict was read.
One juror cried as the verdict was read, and she bit her lip and her voice quivered as she said "guilty" when she was polled by the court officer.
"People ask about closure, but there will never be closure because Christa is never coming back to us," said her cousin, Mary Worthington, who read a statement before sentencing.
During the trial, George reminded jurors that police had focussed on Worthington's former boyfriends during a three-year investigation before arresting McCowen in April 2005.
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.
"The black man didn't get justice, I really believe that," said McCowen's friend, Janice Randall, who has known him for five years.
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.
The original jury in the case deliberated more than 28 hours over five days before declaring Monday they were deadlocked. Judge Gary Nickerson sequestered them and ordered them to keep trying, but on Tuesday removed a juror who was recorded talking to her jailed boyfriend about media reports of the case and disparaging police officers, raising concern about bias.
The juror was replaced, and the jury had to start anew their deliberations Tuesday afternoon.
At the time the judge removed the juror, the defense said the move destroyed his client's chances for a fair trial.