Jury Recalled on Racism Charges
Posted by shadmia on January 7, 2008
Christopher McCowen, 34, trash collector was convicted Nov. 2006 of the rape and killing of Christa Worthington, 46, a writer who had covered fashion in New York and Paris before moving to the small town of Truro, Mass. He was black and she was white. He was uneducated and had a lengthy criminal record. She was a wealthy fashion writer from a prominent local family. He confessed to having consensual sex with her but claimed he did not kill her. He blamed the killing on his friend Fraizer. The trial was racially charged and McCowen’s defense attorney, Robert George, accused authorities of focusing unfairly on McCowen.
“It’s based on an assumption — a false assumption — that a Vassar-educated 46-year-old, world-traveling, wealthy heiress could not possibly have had consensual sex with a black, uneducated, troubled garbage man,” George said.
The jury eventually convicted McCowen who was sentenced to life in prison. For more information on the trial click here the statements McCowen made to the police click here and character reference letters click here
Now, more than a year after the trial, Superior Court Judge Gary Nickerson has decided to summon the entire jury back to testify in open court about the possibility that racism may have influenced the verdict. Depending on what he finds out, the judge could order a new trial. According to Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, this is an extraordinary move that could have a chilling effect. Questioning jurors in open court about their deliberations after a verdict is extremely rare. Jury deliberations are considered almost sacrosanct.
“The jury system depends on jurors being open and frank in their views. We protect the sanctity of the jury room for that reason,” Turley said.
However, after the trial three jurors contacted McCowen’s lawyer and claimed to have heard racially biased remarks from three other jurors. During the deliberations, one of the jurors, a white woman, while discussing bruises on the victim said they looked like “when a big black guy beats up on a small woman.” One of the other jurors, a black woman, took offense and accused her of racism. Things got heated and two women had to be separated. One of the jurors also claimed a dark-skinned man of Cape Verdean descent said that he had been raised by white people and that he did not like blacks and “what they are capable of.”
During the hearing, set for Jan. 10 and 11, Nickerson is expected to question the three jurors who submitted sworn statements, as well as the other members of the panel. Jeffrey Abramson, a Brandeis University professor who specializes in jury dynamics, said he had never heard of an entire jury being recalled after a verdict had been declared.
It is extremely rare for a judge to grant a new trial based on allegations of racial bias among jurors. Abramson said the the judge would first have to determine if racially charged statements were made and then decide whether the remarks actually influenced the verdict.
“I think if he were to find that these remarks were made and that certain jurors felt under pressure from them, it’s going to be very difficult for the judge to say, ‘Well, I don’t think that the remarks really prejudiced the deliberations,'” Abramson said. “These remarks, if true, are precisely the kind of remarks that undercut reasonable deliberations on the merits of the case.”