- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) — A former trash collector was convicted and sentenced to life in prison yesterday 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, which had been deadlocked after five days of deliberations, was forced to start deliberations anew on Tuesday after one member was replaced.

McCowen was a garbage collector in the small town Truro, where Miss Worthington lived, and his route passed her house. He 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.

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 Miss Worthington’s former boyfriends during a three-year investigation before arresting McCowen in April 2005.

Mr. George said police only decided Miss Worthington was raped because they could not think that McCowen — a black, uneducated garbage man — could have had consensual sex with Miss Worthington, a white, sophisticated woman who worked for years as a fashion writer in New York and Paris.

Mr. 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 Miss Worthington’s driveway about 12 hours after police think she was killed.

Although the friend McCowen named was never charged in Miss Worthington’s death, the jury was instructed that they could find McCowen guilty of murder even if they thought the friend actually killed Miss 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 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 press reports of the case and disparaging police.

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