Reports shed light on probe into Cape killing

Police documents detail suspect's denial, interviews

By Ralph Ranalli
Globe Staff / May 4, 2005

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The trash collector charged with raping and stabbing to death Truro writer Christa Worthington insisted to police last year that ''it wasn't me" and said he had only limited contact with her and that she sometimes watched and waved to him from inside her home as he emptied her garbage bin each week.

State Police investigators interviewed 33-year-old Christopher M. McCowen twice, once three months after the January 2002 slaying and again two years later. After the second interview, McCowen volunteered a swab of his DNA, which was finally matched last month to DNA taken from Worthington's body, according to court documents made public for the first time yesterday.

''Chris McCowen stated that Christa Worthington would occasionally watch him from inside her home through the front door and would sometimes wave," Trooper Christopher S. Mason wrote of the 2002 interview in an affidavit filed last month in support of a murder complaint against McCowen.

The newly released documents shed new light on how authorities investigated the slaying case, which generated national headlines and set the small Cape town on edge. A judge released the documents yesterday in response to a motion by the Globe to unseal them.

According to the affidavit, McCowen said that although he went to Worthington's Depot Road house every Thursday, he said he did not know her and never went inside.

McCowen also told investigators that the only other person he had seen at the home was ''a small girl," presumably a reference to Worthington's 2-year-old daughter, Ava, who was found clinging to her mother's lifeless body. The toddler said she tried to wake her mother and tried to clean the blood-soaked body with a hand towel, according to the affidavit.

When he was first interviewed, McCowen said he had no information about the slaying, Mason wrote in the affidavit. McCowen consented to giving fingerprint and DNA samples then, but his DNA was not taken until two years later. Michael O'Keefe, Cape and Islands district attorney, has said that investigators were pursuing other scenarios and that McCowen was difficult to track down because he had changed jobs and addresses.

When investigators caught up with McCowen for the second interview, he was told that investigators had developed a DNA profile of ''an unknown male" from sperm collected at the crime scene, the affidavit states.

''I asked Chris McCowen if he would consent to provide a DNA sample in order to exclude him as a source of the DNA recovered from the body of Christa Worthington," Mason wrote. ''Chris McCowen stated that it wasn't me and stated that he would provide a sample."

McCowen then allowed investigators to take a DNA sample from his mouth, the affidavit states.

O'Keefe has said that the swab was sent to the lab five months later, under an agreement with State Police laboratory officials that his office would ship five DNA submissions at a time because of the large number of samples the investigation was generating. O'Keefe said that McCowen's was the 41st DNA sample submitted to the lab in connection with the case.

He was arrested April 14, one week after investigators were informed that his DNA matched DNA taken from Worthington's body, according to Mason's affidavit.

Francis O'Boy, the lawyer representing McCowen, has said he will closely scrutinize the DNA analysis in the case. ''There's a question whether the DNA [analysis] was properly performed," O'Boy told the Globe last month. ''I think that's a major question in this case."

In addition to information about the interviews with McCowen, the State Police affidavit also contains information that appears to support prosecutors' contention that Worthington was killed by a stranger or a casual acquaintance, not by a lover or someone she knew well. Investigators put a number of Worthington's former romantic partners under close scrutiny as possible suspects during the investigation.

Mason wrote in his affidavit that investigators found signs of forced entry. ''The front wooden and glass door leading to the kitchen area from the outside was damaged," he wrote. ''Lieutenant [Monte] Gilardi stated that the door appeared to have been forced inward, damaging the doorjamb and the lock faceplate. The deadbolt was in the locked position."

Investigators who searched the house after the murder were unable to find Worthington's purse or her wallet, and they reported finding numerous items -- some keys, a key chain, a plastic barrette, her eyeglasses, and a pair of wool socks -- scattered in the driveway.

They were also unable to find the cordless phone from the house and discovered that Worthington had dialed the numeral ''9" on her cellphone, the affidavit states, suggesting that she might have been prevented from calling for help.

Mason's affidavit said investigators checked McCowen's criminal record a week before his arrest and found that he had five separate restraining orders, ''each alleging physical abuse against different females."

O'Keefe said last night that police had previously checked McCowen's criminal record in 2002, within six months of Worthington's slaying, but that there were numerous other people within Worthington's outer circle -- her acquaintances and people who had casual contact with her -- who also had criminal records.

In one 1999 restraining order, McCowen's then-girlfriend alleged that he broke her car window as she tried to drive away from him, showering her with glass.

The woman said that when she refused to return McCowen's belongings until he paid her the money he owed her, he threatened to break into her house, saying, ''Oh well, it wouldn't be the first time I've broken into a house."