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Book on '02 Cape slaying uses lurid details from DA

Advance copies of a new book about slain writer Christa Worthington describe the scene of her death in painful detail, down to the nick in the floor where a knife drove clear through her body, and a cellphone nearby on which she had dialed only 9 in an apparent aborted call for help.

Several of Worthington's relatives protested the book's contents - drawn in part from crime scene photographs shared with the book's author by prosecutor Michael O'Keefe - and said they were angry that such evidence would be revealed in the book. Investigators, meanwhile, said they hoped information in the book would lead to a break in the case.

After Worthington was found dead in her Truro house in January 2002, her killing became the subject of breathless reporting across the nation, but no suspects have ever been named.

Maria Flook's book, "Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod," provides ample new material about an investigation that has been closely guarded from the public.

The few copies of the book now circulating, though, have created a stir in Truro principally because of new insights into the murder investigation and colloquial exchanges with O'Keefe, the first assistant district attorney for the Cape and Islands at the time of the murder. O'Keefe was sworn in this year as Barnstable district attorney, and he now heads the office in charge of prosecuting the case.

Among the revelations in Flook's 300-page work are numerous details about the killing - that Worthington had dried semen on her thigh, that she had been felled by blows to the head, probably with a cordless telephone, before the killer stabbed her once with great force, leaving her to choke on her own blood and die.

Flook also documents other detailed moments of the investigation - such as when investigators photographed underwear from her dresser drawer - and writes that O'Keefe made casual comments to the author about Worthington's sex life.

In a written statement provided to the Globe, members of Worthington's family also complained about a "general victimization of Christa Worthington" in the book.

In his first public comments on the book, O'Keefe said yesterday that he had shared information with the author in hopes of furthering the investigation, but that he had not read the book and could not comment on statements attributed to him.

He added that he regrets any use of "language that was certainly not meant for publication" in what he believed were background interviews.

"I've spoken to the family about that," he said. "I have to blame no one but myself for that. I assumed, I suppose, a greater sense of judgment" on the part of the writer and publisher.

"I understand it is written with some imagination," he said.

Worthington, 46, was found dead an estimated 36 hours after the murder, alone except for her bewildered and hungry 2 1/2-year-old daughter.

Although the pool of potential suspects broadened to include an array of local figures whose lives were entangled with Worthington's, investigators never named a suspect and no progress has been made public since January, when O'Keefe announced that police were searching for a recent lover and offered, together with Worthington's relatives, a $25,000 reward for information in the case.

Three weeks after the killing, Random House announced a contract for a nonfiction book about the case with Flook, 49, a novelist best known for her much-admired 1998 memoir, "My Sister Life." Flook, who had never written about crime before, told a Globe reporter last year that her book would concern itself with the inner life of Worthington and the community at the tip of the Cape.

"The murder is not the story. The story I'm going to write is about more than that," she told the Globe.

In the book's narration of the give-and-take between the author and the prosecutor, O'Keefe is quoted trying to guide the writer toward a scenario investigators were favoring.

Flook did not respond this week to requests for comment left at her home in Truro. But Suzanne Herz, assistant publisher for Broadway Books, which is publishing "Invisible Eden," said the manuscript had been throughly reviewed by lawyers and she had confidence in its accuracy.

"We would stand by that and we stand by our author," she said. "I don't know what went into the prosecutor's decisionmaking in giving Maria access."

Investigators routinely leak information to journalists or writers when they feel it could work to their advantage, but ethical rules prohibit prosecutors from sharing grand jury material or making statements that could prejudice a legal case. The state Board of Bar Overseers could censure a prosecutor who violated those guidelines. Or, if a case is prosecuted later against a person discussed in the book, a defense attorney could argue that there has been prosecutorial misconduct.

But one observer said that although unguarded statements about an ongoing investigation can be damaging politically, they are momentary snapshots and usually not pursued as ethics violations.

"Whatever the prosecutor's ideas are right now, it's the evidence that is important in the courtroom," said Robert A. Barton, a retired Superior Court judge who sat for five years on the state Judicial Conduct Commission. "I don't think it's an ethical thing. You could call it a moral or judgmental thing."

Philip Rollins, who was district attorney for the Cape and Islands and O'Keefe's boss during the intense early months of the investigation, said O'Keefe felt Flook "had an ability to get information to people and get information out of people," and agreed to work with her as an investigative tactic.

O'Keefe concurred. "We received information from her and she is someone who may turn out to have been the repository of" important information, he said. They had an agreement that none of the information he provided would be released for a year after the crime, when Flook's work could be used as a "barometer of truth," O'Keefe said.

Both O'Keefe and State Police Sergeant James Plath said they have given Flook's book to investigators to read, and that they hope it could offer new clues, possibly by prompting memories in a witness. The other most promising approach is an ongoing effort to match DNA found at the scene of the crime with samples in a national database, O'Keefe said.

Although Worthington's family did not cooperate with Flook, many of the main players in Worthington's life are quoted extensively - her ex-boyfriend Tim Arnold narrates the story of their painful breakup, and her sometime lover, Tony Jackett, describes in detail their sexual dalliances.

But few people in Truro have read the book yet.

"I support Maria's effort to make a coherent portrait of Christa," said Arnold, reached at his Truro home yesterday. Chris Snow, Jackett's attorney, said he has heard little around town about the contents of the book. He added, though, that O'Keefe was known for keeping the details of investigations close to the vest.

"The read on it has been, why make anything public?" he said. "You want to make the suspect make as many mistakes as possible."

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