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Thursday, November 16, 2006
(Globe File Photos)
A jury found Christopher M. McCowen (left) guilty today of the 2002 rape and murder of Christa Worthington (right) in her Cape Cod home.
By Megan Tench and John R. Ellement, Globe Staff, and Andrew Ryan, Globe Correspondent
BARNSTABLE -- A jury found a trash collector guilty today of the brutal rape and murder of fashion writer Christa Worthington after a sensational trial in a case that thrust a sleepy beach town on Cape Cod into the national spotlight.
The panel of seven women and five men found Christopher M. McCowen guilty on all counts. The jurors found McCowen guilty of murder with extreme atrocity and cruelty and murder while committing felonies -- aggravated rape and burglary.
McCowen bowed his head, pursed his lips and blinked away tears. He faces a maximum of life in prison without parole.
In the crowded public gallery, spectators cried. McCowen's girlfriend, Catherine Rios Cisseros, doubled over and sobbed.
Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary A. Nickerson sentenced McCowen to three concurrent life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole.
McCowen addressed the court with his head bowed.
"Your honor, all I can say is I'm an innocent man in this case," he said, according to the Asscoaited Press. McCowen then thanked the judge and court officers for showing him respect during the six-week trial.
After five days without a verdict, the jury had to restart deliberations when the judge removed a juror an ordered an alternate to take her place on the panel.
With the addition of the alternate, the jury began deliberating from scratch on Tuesday. They sifted through almost three weeks of testimony from a 39-month police investigation that included a controversial dragnet that collected DNA from all the men in the small town of Truro, near the tip of Cape Cod.
Worthington, 46, was found in her home in January 2002 lying half-naked on the kitchen floor, dead from a stab wound to the chest. Her toddler, Ava, was unhurt but smeared with her mother's blood.
Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe had a relieved look on his face after what he called a "very good" verdict "consistent with the evidence." He deflected suggestions that the dismissal of a juror on Tuesday may have made the difference for what had been a deadlocked jury.
"I don't think the replacement of one juror had much to do with the outcome," O'Keefe said.
Investigators alleged that DNA led them to McCowen. Prosecutor Robert Welsh presented testimony from investigators who said that McCowen, who first denied knowing the victim, later claimed he and Worthington had consensual sex the night she died after he was presented with DNA evidence.
In a six-hour interrogation that the defense disputed, McCowen, according to police, said he punched Worthington in the face, stomped on her, and wiped down her body after she died, according to investigators.
But police said McCowen never admitted to Worthington's murder and claimed that his friend, Jeremy Frazier, was the real killer. On the stand, Frazier denied having anything to do with Worthington's death.
Defense attorney Robert George disputed McCowen's statements from the six-hour interview, which was not recorded.
During deliberations, Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary A. Nickerson responded to a question from the jury about recording interrogations. Nickerson told the panel that police had the option to tape an interview as long as the subject knew they were being recorded.
In closing arguments, George told jurors that his client was the victim of desperate and overzealous detectives. The police botched the investigation, George said, and then manipulated the evidence to fit their theory that McCowen stabbed her after drinking that Friday night in January 2002.
George claimed that Worthington was alive and well Saturday morning until someone else, a white man driving a dark car, killed her. Worthington's body was discovered in her Truro home on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2002.
He said that police had failed to investigate a report by an eyewitness who said he saw a white man in a dark-colored car speed away from Worthington's driveway the day before her body was discovered.
Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.
Posted by the Boston Globe City & Region Desk at 02:32 PM