Mass. court denies appeal in fashion writer death

A black trash collector convicted of raping and murdering a white Cape Cod fashion writer lost his bid for a new trial Friday when Massachusetts's highest court rejected his claims that racial bias tainted the jury's deliberations.

Christopher McCowen was convicted of fatally stabbing Christa Worthington in her home in 2002. Worthington, 46, was found lying in a pool of blood, with her 2½-year-old daughter clinging to her body.

McCowen told police he and Worthington had consensual sex and said his friend stabbed her after she confronted him about rifling through her belongings.

In his appeal, McCowen's lawyer, Robert George, argued that jury deliberations during the trial had been infected by racial bias.

He said several jurors made racially charged comments about McCowen during deliberations.

George said he was disappointed by the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling and planned to seek a review of the case in U.S. District Court.

"It is not easy, and in fact almost legally impossible, to reverse a jury verdict," he said. "The road is very long and incredibly hard, so our next step is the federal court where the constitutional issues in this case will be aired out."

Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe, whose office prosecuted McCowen, said the trial was fair.

"This decision is entirely consistent with the overwhelming evidence in this case and the manner in which the trial was conducted," he said in a statement. O'Keefe did not immediately return a call for comment.

The Supreme Judicial Court found that the trial judge who held a post-trial hearing on the claims of juror bias had correctly found that racial bias had not tainted deliberations.

"We conclude that the judge did not err in finding that the defendant was not denied his due process right to an impartial jury because of a juror's racial bias," Justice Ralph Gants wrote for the court in the unanimous ruling.

Justice Roderick Ireland, who was confirmed this week as the court's first black chief justice, agreed with the court's decision to uphold McCowen's conviction but said he remained bothered by the case's racial issues. He said the judge's findings in the McCowen case were not erroneous but that "unconscious racism" can affect the outcome of trials.

"Because of unconscious racism, it is the subtle clues that help give a judge insight into a juror's true feelings," Ireland wrote.

Worthington spent years in New York and Paris covering fashion for Elle, Cosmopolitan and Women's Wear Daily. She left New York to live in the quiet town of Truro, where she was raising her daughter, Ava, as a single mother.

Authorities questioned several of Worthington's male friends and former lovers during a three-year investigation before arresting McCowen.