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Lawyer criticizes judge in slay case

Bias reports still unheard

Christopher McCowen was convicted of murder. Christopher McCowen was convicted of murder.

More than six months have passed since a black trash collector was convicted of murdering a white fashion writer on Cape Cod, and his lawyer says the trial judge is shirking his duty to address allegations that jurors made racist remarks during deliberations.

Robert A. George, who defended Christopher M. McCowen in the high-profile trial, said that one of three jurors who alleged racial bias in sworn statements shortly afterward has moved out of state and that another will also do so. George said that will make it harder for Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary A. Nickerson to hold a hearing to interview jurors, if he concludes the assertions have merit.

"I don't know whether there's any design behind the delay," said George, who submitted the jurors' affidavits as part of a Dec. 12 motion for a new trial. "But I will say, in my mind, the entire case is a hot potato, and the juror issue is a very explosive, dangerous, and unique situation to deal with in the courthouse. . . . The fact is, he hasn't done anything."

George filed a motion May 25 demanding that Nickerson hold an immediate hearing about the jurors' allegations. The three jurors said other jurors referred to McCowen as "an intimidating big black guy" and voiced fears that he was staring at them.

Because Nickerson has not acted on the original request, George said, he will have to delay an appeal of McCowen's Nov. 16 conviction to the state's highest court. The Supreme Judicial Court reviews every first-degree murder conviction, and George's brief is due Friday, he said.

Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the judiciary, said only that Nickerson is considering the matter.

Michael D. O'Keefe, Cape and Islands district attorney, said the allegations of racial bias raise thorny legal issues. "I'm sure that complexity is giving the court some pause," he said.

In January, he said in court papers that McCowen got a fair trial in the murder of Christa Worthington even if jurors made racially insensitive remarks because the alleged comments did not necessarily affect the verdict.

He also said it was George who introduced race at the trial by arguing that police unfairly targeted the trash collector as a suspect after dismissing McCowen's assertion that he had a consensual sexual relationship with Worthington, who was found slain in January 2002 inside her Truro house.

Worthington, 46, a world-traveling, Vassar-educated writer, was found stabbed to death in her secluded hilltop bungalow. Her 2 1/2-year-old daughter was found clinging to her half-naked body and smeared with blood, but was unharmed. Prosecutors contended that McCowen raped and then killed Worthington.

In the affidavits filed by George, the three jurors asserted that one juror described bruises on Worthington as predictable when a "200-pound black guy beats on a small woman." The remarks prompted one of the jurors who submitted an affidavit to call another juror a racist and almost led to a fight between the two women, who had to be separated, the affidavits said.

The affidavits were filed by one black juror and two white jurors, including one who was dismissed partway through deliberations. They said the racial remarks were made by two white jurors and a black juror.

Two of the 12 jurors who delivered the verdict were African American.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at