"An innocent man was sent to jail for life for a crime he did not commit," says Christopher McCowen, the man convicted of the heinous slaying.
Beautiful places are not immune to horrible crimes. These words echoed throughout the small, picturesque town of Truro, Massachusetts on January 6, 2002, when former New York fashion writer Christa Worthington was found brutally murdered.
Worthington, then a forty-six year-old single mom was sprawled on the tiny kitchen floor of her childhood summer home, marinating in a pool of her own tacky blood. Her unharmed toddler daughter, Ava clung helplessly to her mother’s side. Worthington’s body was said to have been badly beaten, while a single stab wound to her chest was determined the cause of her death.
Three years later, on April 15, 2005, local sanitation worker, Christopher McCowen was arrested for the heinous crime. On November 16, 2006, an alleged racially-biased jury in a similarly-governed court found McCowen guilty … not just the murder, but also of two additional charges. When it was learned that he and Worthington had consensual sex shortly before her death, the prosecution upped the ante to include the additional charges of rape and child endangerment. McCowen was sentenced to three life terms in prison.
In 2010, in spite of multiple solid grounds for an overturned conviction, the Supreme Judicial Court denied McCowen’s first Appeal. The high court’s ruling was reminiscent of the trial in that it sparked nation-wide rage; the common belief that racism was still alive and well in the always-dubbed ‘liberal’ Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Both national and local polls showed ninety percent of participants believed in McCowen’s innocence. The scales of justice were tipped to the wrong side; there was no justice … for McCowen or Worthington.
Case closed? Not so fast, Cape Cod. A killer is very likely still on the loose.
As a Boston-based mystery and true crime writer, and an investigative journalist, my initial interest in this case was strictly a matter of subject for my next book. Not far into my research, however, a book on the crime became my last priority. My own investigating and my reading of Peter Manso’s Reasonable Doubt (an all-encompassing, true, accurate and fearless account of this case) told me something was wrong; very wrong. I needed to talk to the man behind bars and I knew just where to start … where Manso left off.
Bland is the only way to describe the late-January New England afternoon. It was much like I imaged Christa Worthington’s last day of life to be. Perhaps this is why, after shopping at Stop & Shop with Ava, she canceled her nanny for the evening as well as her dinner plans with former boyfriend, Tim Arnold and decided to stay at home. Clearly, this decision changed her life.
As I drove along the old interstate, weathered pieces of plywood sporting bright orange spray paint decorated the roadside and offered services such as ‘canning’ and ‘pickling’. I rolled on while settlement thinned, gas prices dropped and eventually, there was nothing. Only wheat fields full of headless, still and paled stocks. If I hadn’t already sensed it, these sights confirmed the fact that I was well out of my thickly-settled, just-south-of-the-city comfort zone.
The sudden appearance of sky-high picket fences topped with circular razor wire snapped me from the sleepy state imposed upon me by the aforementioned seasonal lack of allure. I mused briefly about the foil toy windmills on sticks I carried as a child.
But just like that, I found myself in an altogether different world.
The already sub-zero day instantly cooled another ten degrees and despite the warmth of my vehicle, I was chilled to the very core of my being. But what should I have expected? I was after all going to the Big House, and nothing dared debate the fact that I had arrived. I was just steps away from a contact visit with a convicted killer.
In my exclusive interview with McCowen on the eve of his second and final appeal, he answered some very pointed questions; telling his never-before-heard side of the story.
The interview was as follows.
Lee: “I have researched your case inside and out. What do you think went wrong … why were you convicted?”
McCowen: “I’ll tell you what went wrong; an innocent man was sent to jail for life for a crime he did not commit. A white woman would never have consensual sex with a black man; that was what the prosecution was pushing. Everyone bought it. Well, not everyone, but those who didn’t were removed from the jury. And, please, pardon me if I sound angry. It’s just … it takes every ounce of my strength every day to live with this idea.”
Lee: “Sure it does. When was the last time you saw Christa Worthington?”
McCowen: “The last time I saw Christa was on a Thursday afternoon in early January, 2002. I’m really not sure of the exact date.”
Lee: “At what time did you leave her house on that Thursday afternoon?
McCowen: Now that would depend on what time I got to her house. If I would [sic] get to her house by 12:30 or 1:00 in the afternoon, it would normally take me about 5 or 10 minutes to do whatever. If I’m not too busy, I just take my time. On this day work really wasn’t busy. When she asked me into her house I really lost track of time, and seeing how my boss already knew where I was, I just took my time and I spent close to 45 minutes to an hour at her house.”
Lee: “When you say ‘whatever’, do you mean that you were intimate with Christa at that time when you last saw her?”
Lee: “Were you intimate with Christa on more than one occasion?”
Lee: “And why or how is it that your boss knew you were there?”
McCowen: “I called him to ask about her tree. After I put her trash in the truck she asked me to come inside and look at her Christmas tree. She wanted to know when I could take it away. After looking at it, I called my boss to ask him if I should use the truck I was driving or come back with a bigger truck. He told me I would need to use the bigger truck and get the tree another day. So as I was leaving, she just, you know, started flirting with me and stuff.”
Lee: “She came on to you?”
McCowen: “Yeah. She was touching my arms and commenting on my muscles. I got a weird feeling because the baby was sitting right there on the floor. She was playing with some toys or something and she wasn’t looking at us, but I still felt strange.”
Lee: “How did things progress from there?”
McCowen: “Christa didn’t worry about the baby seeing us. She told me not to worry about it. She pulled me over to a couch and had me sit down. There was so much crap everywhere; I was tripping all over the place. She even pushed away a bunch of stuff on the couch so I could sit down. After that, she lifted the long dress shirt she was wearing and she climbed on top of me. She had no pants or underwear on … just an overly big pink shirt and pink socks. So from there, things just happened.”
Lee: “Okay; I get the picture. So after about forty to forty-five minutes, you left?”
Lee: “Where did you go?”
McCowen: “I went home and I fell asleep on my couch with my daughter’s head on my chest. Kelly, the mother of my daughter woke up in the middle of the night and saw us there, but she would not step up and testify or confirm this.”
Lee: “Do you know why? Could it be that she was afraid to get involved? Or, could it be that perhaps this wasn’t the night in question? In other words, could it be because Christa was pretty much confirmed to have been killed on the following night … Friday night?”
McCowen: No; I don’t have any idea why Kelly wouldn’t do this. I really don’t know if she was afraid or not, because once I got arrested she up and left. But I was in the same exact place on Friday night, and she knew it.”
Lee: “Do you think Kelly would at a future date testify to this … to the fact that you were home on Friday night as well?”
McCowen: “Truthfully, I don’t think she would be willing to testify in the future but, then again, I could be wrong. When she left, she didn’t give me her new address, but she did give it to Pam. Pam is the mother of my oldest daughter.”
Lee: “The medical examiner placed Christa’s time of death somewhere between 24 – 36 hours before her body was discovered on Sunday afternoon. She was captured on a store surveillance camera at about 5:00 p.m. on Friday night. She later cancelled with her nanny who was planning to come over and babysit. On Saturday, she never showed up for a hair appointment. I guess this means she was murdered on Friday night. What do you make of this?”
McCowen: “What a question to answer. I would say that that’s a very interesting theory you might have. When I first got arrested they were still trying to figure out what time and day she died. So, when I got arrested on April 15, 2005 and when they were asking me questions, I told them about going to my daughter’s house to pay child support, going to the Juice Bar, going to an after party, and then going back home to my other daughter. All of this took place on Friday night. It seems like they [police] went ahead and assumed that this was the day that she died. What I’m saying now is that nobody really knows when she died; it could have been Friday night or any time on Saturday. This would leave twenty-four hours before Sunday afternoon.”
Lee: “Christa’s cell phone was found on her kitchen table with the number “9” dialed. The time of this apparent outgoing call was 10:10 p.m. Do you know the date when this call was made, or whether or not her phone was tested for fingerprints?”
McCowen: “No and no. There was no log of the date. If they [police] took any prints, we [my attorney and I] had no knowledge of it. They [police] claimed they didn’t [take prints]. But it would sure be interesting to know the date because that would probably confirm when she died.”
Lee: “Law enforcement had quite a few suspects in connection with the murder. Of those suspects, would you be more inclined to point a finger more at one than another? If so, why?”
McCowen: “Tony Jackett, Tim Arnold, Tony Costa, Keith Amatto and the list continues because every single one of them had a motive. You can pick anything from sex, rejection, money or kids [as the motive].”
Lee: “Why do you believe these suspects weren’t pressed further?”
McCowen: “The reasons why I think that the police wouldn’t press any further on these other suspects are because (1) they have money; (2) they have ties to the community; (3) either they or someone in their families has something to do with the town; or (4) they could be working undercover with the law enforcement.”
Lee: “Working undercover? In what instances would that happen?”
McCowen: “Working as drug informants; local drug dealers and sellers … stuff like that. That’s all there really is on the Cape.”
Lee: “You first denied to police ever having had intimate relations with Christa. Why?”
McCowen: “When the police first asked me about Christa, I did what she asked me to do if anyone ever asked. She said I could never tell anyone we had sex because her family would never accept the fact of her dating or having anything to do with black people. And especially someone who was picking up garbage. But it was up to Christa in that matter; she could make that decision for herself.”
Lee: “Why did you admit to police to helping Jeremy Frazier beat Christa after she confronted him about a robbery?”
McCowen: “First and foremost, I never said that me [sic] and Jeremy did anything. Second of all, I would never help anyone beat on a female; robbery or not. It would be the opposite; I would be fighting him instead. But I never said anything about this to the police. They never taped my questioning. What I did say was that ‘Whoever did this is a sick bastard, and that he deserves everything that he gets.’ Now that was my statement to the police.”
Lee: “Did you and Christa ever talk about her personal life (her friends, her family, her relationships, or any troubles in her life)?”
McCowen: “No, we never spoke about any of that. Only the part about her family not knowing we had sex. But I think she was having some problems with someone.”
Lee: “What makes you say that?”
McCowen: “When I was there, doing … you know; she got up at one point because she thought she saw a light flash or something. She left and went into a room nearby off to the side. I heard her say something like ‘Get out of here, you bastard!’ So I leaned over to look in her direction and I saw that she was standing in the bedroom looking out the window. I didn’t ask, but when she came back she said that there was someone out there spying in her windows with a flashlight. I got a little freaked out so I asked her if she wanted me to take a look outside. She told me not to worry. She said that she knew who the guy was and that he did this all the time. Plus, she said he had already run off into the woods. I don’t know if that’s trouble, but I thought the whole thing was pretty weird.”
Lee: “If you could say anything to the public to support your position other than to profess your innocence, which you’ve already done, what would you say?”
McCowen: “What can I say? What can I do? My life has been taken away from me just like Christa’s was from her. All I can do is answer these questions in my own words, and this is what I would tell all the other people who might ask these questions.”
Lee: “Why do you think only your DNA was tested in this case? What other DNA would you like to see tested and what might those tests reveal?”
McCowen: “I could say that the only reason why my DNA sample was the only one tested is because I am black. If the other DNA that was collected from the scene was ever tested, it would show who else Christa was involved with. There [was] at least four other profiles collected from her body but the tests never went forward.”
Lee: “What, if anything more could have been done by anyone to prove your innocence?”
McCowen: “Honestly, what can anyone do to help? Because, as you and I both know, the justice system is so corrupt that, no matter if you’re innocent or not, you will never get your life back. The first time that you go to jail and end up on probation, the state owns you, and they will continue to mess with you. But if your family or friends have money then you won’t have to worry about anything. If not, you will be going to prison. I’ve seen people who have done some serious crimes get only probation, whether they were black or white (especially white). But if you don’t have money, forget about it.”
Lee: “People often remember things in the aftermath of a crime. Have you remembered anything in the past eight years which might further support your innocence?”
McCowen: “To tell you the truth, out of [sic] everything I have said and stated is everything I remember in all these years. I’m still trying to remember if I shot my mouth off to my friends about getting with Christa. A guy can brag to his friends, you know. If I did this, then maybe that is another avenue for police to take. I mean, I don’t think that my friends could have been capable of murdering someone but you never know. Maybe if I did brag about a beautiful and wealthy white woman, they would have gone up there to try to get some for themselves. But again, if there was a way for me to show or prove my innocence, then trust me, I would. I would really like to see the other DNA tested, but all I can do is to answer these questions.”
Lee: “Who would be the friends you might have told about being intimate with Christa?”
McCowen: “Well, not really even friends. Just guys I was [sic] with hanging out at the Juice Bar and the after party on that Friday night before I went home. A couple of locals. That’s all I can think of on my end if Christa was murdered on Friday night. I was home early that night because a fight broke out at the juice bar and then another fight broke out at the after party. I left for home, and the guys I went with took off together.”
Lee: “I gather from reviewing the trial transcripts that you are referring to Jeremy Frazier and Sean Mulvey. Mulvey was Frazier’s alibi, right?”
McCowen: “Yeah and yeah. It was like I said after my trial, I never meant for any of this to happen. I was somehow thinking that it was my fault, maybe if I opened my mouth about sleeping with Christa. I mean, it’s one thing to brag to your friends, but a whole different story to tell the cops about her personal business.”
Lee: “Do you think one or both of them could have gone to Christa’s house looking for something?”
McCowen: “Sure. Jeremy even said at trial that he was calling up girls, looking for something to do.”
Lee: “How would you describe Christa as a person?”
McCowen: “Well, that’s easy enough. Nice, sweet, a loving friend and mother; someone who wasn’t afraid to take chances and risks. If Christa wanted anything, she went out and got it. All in all, a very nice lady from my point of view but if you ask anyone else, it [the answer] could be different.”
Lee: “How would you describe yourself as a person?”
McCowen: “Well, that is a hard question to answer and I would leave that up to you and to anyone else who would like to answer that.”
Lee: “Do you have your own theory about what really happened to Christa?”
McCowen: “I really can’t answer that question because I don’t know what to think or say. But whoever did this took an angel away from everybody.”
Lee: “Would you like to add anything that I haven’t asked which might be helpful to your case?”
McCowen: “I would encourage anyone to ask me any questions they want, without holding anything back.”
Lee: “Do you feel confident that you are receiving adequate legal counsel?”
McCowen: “When I had Bob George as my lawyer, I thought that he was the best lawyer out there. But now that he’s in jail, I have a new lawyer. With the lawyer that I have now, I have to give him a chance to prove himself. But really, what lawyer has your best interests in mind unless he’s only in it for big money? You do have corrupt lawyers as well.”
Lee: “I get the sense that you are a very loyal person. Is there something you know about the murder that you might not be speaking about in order to protect someone else?”
McCowen: “Look; when it comes to protecting anyone, it would only be my kids and their mothers, even though we don’t get along; but that’s my responsibility and I hold that dear to my heart. If any of my friends would have done anything like this, no, I wouldn’t protect them. Doing drugs, selling drugs, stealing cars … we’ve all done some crazy shit. But to commit murder, no; they would be on their own. I have made mistakes … some I’m not proud about, but those mistakes are the ones I have to live with and to make amends with the people that I’ve wronged. How could you ever make amends with someone over murder?”
Lee: “In addition to having your conviction overturned, what path would you like the rest of your life to take?”
McCowen: “If and when I can get this overturned, my life will never be the same because I will always have to look over my shoulder; especially, if I stay here, in Massachusetts. I want to find someone that I can spend my life with … someone that I can fall in love with, but to have relationships with my kids as well. I’d also really like to do something with kids today, so they don’t make stupid mistakes. I want a life without problems. I want a good job and a house and a dog or a lizard. Just a plain old boring life. I could go on, but really; ask me that question again when I get out.”
Lee: “Where does your case stand now?”
McCowen: “My new attorney is working with me to prepare for another appeal. That is all the detail I can give [you] at this time.”
Lee: “You said you wrote to the Innocence Project over a year ago… you haven’t yet heard back from them; is that correct?”
McCowen: “That’s right. I guess the process is that my attorney needed to fill out some paperwork and the prosecution’s attorney was supposed to do the same. I wonder if they ever did.”
Lee: “I want you to know that I have also written to the Innocence Project on your behalf. Additionally, I have written to Governor Deval Patrick and to the famed Alan Dershowitz. I’m simply trying to get any helpful involvement possible in your case.”
McCowen: “I really appreciate that. You know; I’ve got one shot left at this … one more shot at an appeal. After that, I’m all done.”
Lee: “Chris, I want to thank you for taking the time to discuss this difficult matter with me. I find you to be a very mild-tempered and well-mannered individual … a gentleman. I wish you the best of luck and you know that I will be in your corner all the way.”
McCowen: “Thank you. And I know you’ve got my back … that’s why you are the only person besides my attorney that I will talk to.”
Back outside the facility, the same grey-scale scape not earlier worthy of my gaze now glowed, ever vibrant. The darkest calendar months famed for torturing the minds and bodies of New Englanders never seemed so friendly. Ever refreshing was the biting cold air; the same wind that early threatened Pneumonia. The same old songs played on my car stereo, now, with a much different dance. The half-empty, flat Diet Pepsi I left in my console was nothing shy of a delicacy.
What had changed so drastically over the course of a couple of hours? The answer came to my mind as readily as would a stray cat to a stranger’s food. It was my temporary stance in the shoes of another; a man eight years into a life-long prison stint … for a crime he didn’t commit.
Through local authorities I have since confirmed the existence of untested evidence in this case. I am working with state officials to prompt the testing of this evidence.
Additionally, while on tour with my latest book The Shanty: Provincetown’s Lady in the Dunes I happened upon a national gumshoe convention. There, I discussed the Worthington case and I was later approached by one of the attending investigators. He informed me that he was hired by Christa Worthington shortly before she died to, amongst other things, run twenty-four hour video surveillance of her home.
“The equipment was up and running before the murder, so I’m sure there’s something on it [record] that might be helpful to Mr. McCowen. At the time of Christa’s murder, I was on an overseas mission with the Reserves. When I returned, I started working with a new division. I was unaware of Christa’s death until quite some time after the fact and thus, forgot all about the surveillance. When I learned about the murder, I thought of the video and I tried diligently to track it down. I haven’t recently followed up on it. I’m glad you spoke about the matter today; you reminded me to stay on it. I’ll keep you posted.” said the investigator.