— Some jurors who convicted a black garbage man in the murder of a
white fashion writer traded allegations of racism last Thursday in an
unusual hearing called by the judge to determine whether their verdict
was tainted by racial bias.
Lawyers for Christopher McCowen sought the hearing after three jurors accused three others of making racially derogatory remarks while deliberating whether McCowen raped and fatally stabbed Christa Worthington in her home in January 2002.
Judge Gary Nickerson could order a new trial if he finds racial bias affected the verdict in November 2006.
The judge questioned the jurors individually in open court, but out of earshot of the other panelists. Each of the first four questioned by midday described racially charged deliberations.
Roshena Bohanna, who is black, told the judge that two women on the panel referred to the defendant as a “big black guy” and said they were afraid of him.
Bohanna said Marlo George, who is white, tried to convince fellow jurors that McCowen had caused the bruises on Worthington’s body and said: “If a big black man hits a woman, then she gets those bruises.”
Bohanna said she and George became confrontational when she asked what McCowen’s race had to do with the bruises and accused her of racism. The jury foreman had to call for a break.
George denied referring to McCowen’s race during that discussion but acknowledged describing McCowen as a “200-pound black man” while arguing that McCowen went to Worthington’s house looking for sex the night she was killed. She said she referred to his race “merely as a descriptive element.”
After Bohanna took offense, she told her she didn’t mean anything derogatory by it.
Bohanna also told the judge she overheard juror Eric Gomes, a dark-skinned man of Cape Verdean descent, tell a white female juror that he does not consider himself black. When Bohanna later had the confrontation with the white juror, she said she heard Gomes say: “That’s the reason why I don’t like black people. Look at the way they act.”
Gomes denied ever saying he did not like black people. “Absolutely not,” he said.
Carol Cahill, who is white, said Bohanna accused all the jurors of being racist during deliberations and herself used a slur toward a white female juror.
“She said, ‘You’re just a ‘cracker from the South,’ or ‘a Southern cracker,”’ Cahill said.
When the judge asked Cahill if she ever said she was afraid of “a big black guy,” she said: “I did say that I felt ‘intimidated’ … the fact that I was making a decision for his life,” Cahill said. She denied ever referring to his race.
McCowen claimed he had consensual sex with Worthington but that his friend killed her. His defense maintains authorities wrongly focused on him as a suspect because they did not believe Worthington, a 46-year-old writer who had covered fashion in New York and Paris before moving to the small town of Truro, would have a consensual relationship with a black garbage man.
The judge interviewed seven jurors last Thursday and ordered all 14 back to court the next day. He told them not to talk about the case with anyone.
McCowen’s attorney, Bob George, said the hearing so far proved McCowen did not get a fair trial.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the jury deliberations in this case have been tainted by racial bias,” he said.