'A Killing on the Cape': The Murder of Christa Worthington -- Episode 6

Armed with a new defense attorney, Chris McCowen hopes for a new trial.

November 29, 2017, 12:03 AM

— -- An encore presentation of this "20/20" report will air on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

This is Episode 6 of "A Killing on the Cape," a six-episode ABC Radio podcast and an ABC News "20/20" documentary. Watch the two-hour "20/20" documentary HERE.

For Episodes 1-5, please visit http://abcnews.com/akillingonthecape.

Subscribe and listen to the podcast on our partners and platforms: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and under the "Listen" tab on the ABC News app.

Episode 6: The Interview –

It’s been more than 10 years since Christopher McCowen was convicted of raping and murdering Christa Worthington in a case that rocked the Cape Cod area.

In that time, McCowen has been in three different prisons. His is currently being held at a medium security prison called Old Colony, located about a 50-minute drive south of Boston.

Every week, his wife Leslie McCowen makes the hour-long drive from her home in West Dennis to see Chris.

“He’s a very sweet guy, very quiet, very polite,” Leslie McCowen said of her husband. “We talk about our families… we talk a lot about my job and stuff. We play cards, play scrabble, eat, take pictures.”

Leslie McCowen said she first met Chris in the late ‘90s and didn’t know him very well before his arrest and conviction, but that afterward she became close with him.

“Chris used to hang out with my daughters and their crew,” she said. “He was at my house a few times, always very quiet, very polite, not like the rest of them.”

Leslie McCowen said she was taking classes at a community college when she heard on the radio that Chris McCowen had been arrested for the murder of Christa Worthington.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Leslie McCowen said. “I said to myself, ‘Aw, he’ll be out of there in no time. There’s no way in hell he killed anybody.’ … and I told my professor about it and I said, ‘There’s no way he killed anyone.’”

Worthington, a 46-year-old fashion writer and single mother, was found stabbed to death in her seaside cottage in Truro, Massachusetts, on Jan. 6, 2002, with her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ava, by her side, unharmed.

PHOTO: Fashion writer Christa Worthington at Ballston Beach in Truro, Mass., in August 2001.
Fashion writer Christa Worthington at Ballston Beach in Truro, Mass., in August 2001.
Cape Cod Times/ZUMA Press/Newscom

McCowen worked as a garbage man on the Cape and had Worthington’s home on his trash route. At the time, Worthington’s murder was the highest profile case to hit the Cape in decades.

On Nov. 16, 2006, a jury found Chris McCowen guilty of first-degree murder, rape and aggravated burglary. He was given three life sentences, one for each of the charges he was convicted on, without the possibility of parole.

PHOTO: Christopher McCowen wipes away tears as he is sentenced after being convicted  of rape and murder in the slaying of a fashion writer Christa Worthington, Nov. 16, 2006, in Barnstable, Mass.
Christopher McCowen wipes away tears as he is sentenced after being convicted of rape and murder in the slaying of a fashion writer Christa Worthington, Nov. 16, 2006, in Barnstable, Mass.

Leslie McCowen said she and Chris McCowen developed a relationship first through sharing letters, which then turned to phone calls, which turned into visits. Then the two married on May 1, 2014.

“The ceremony was kind of-- was very sweet. We had a female minister, and she said the vows,” Leslie McCowen said.

She calls their marriage “different,” and says she feels bad for what he has to go through in prison every day.

“He’s in there, and he shouldn’t be,” she said. “When you love someone, you love someone, and you take them as they are and they take you as you are.”

Leslie McCowen said the process of getting into the prison to see her husband is no easy task.

“The worst part is the waiting. Once you get there, you know, you pick a number, sit and wait, wait, wait, wait,” she said. “But if you get there light, right when the visits are starting, you can pretty much go right through.”

Leslie McCowen said she even started buying certain types of clothes that would make the process go faster.

“No hoods, no strings, no zipper,” she said. “I had to leave once because I had winter boots on, and it already turned into spring. One time I had to leave because I had a zipper. But now they tell you there’s a Walmart up there road. You can go buy proper clothes.”

Leslie McCowen is just one of a number of people who think that her husband was wrongfully convicted. She not only believes Chris McCowen didn’t get a fair trial, but that he’s innocent and will one day get out of prison.

“I can’t say I have a whole lot of faith in the system or even, sometimes the people here. I just know he did not kill Christa Worthington. That’s all I know,” Leslie McCowen said. “Sometimes the magnitude of what they’ve done to him really hit me when I see this prison. It’s really a travesty of justice, and he needs his life back. I hope they find the real killer or killers.”

Leslie McCowen is seen here driving to the Old Colony prison to see her husband, Christopher McCowen.
Leslie McCowen is seen here driving to the Old Colony prison to see her husband, Christopher McCowen.
ABC News

Chris McCowen’s first appeal was denied in 2010. In that appeal, his then attorneys argued that his conviction should be overturned for several reasons, including that it was a mistake for the judge not to grant his defense’s request to move the trial's location after all the media attention, that a member of the grand jury, which indicted Chris McCowen, knew Christa Worthington, her daughter and Tony Jackett, and that it was improper for one of the jurors to be removed during deliberations.

The juror removed was Rachel Huffman, then 22.

“The removal of Rachel Huffman from the jury was disturbing,” said Chris McCowen’s former defense attorney Bob George. “Rachel Huffman, at the time, was seen as a pro-defense juror. It was also revealed at the time that Rachel Huffman was involved with an African American boyfriend, which came out in jury deliberations.”

The first weekend after deliberations began in mid-November 2006, Huffman’s boyfriend had been arrested in a drug-related shooting. Several jurors testified during a closed session that they had learned of the shooting on the news or by word of mouth from other jurors.

Without admonishing some of the jurors for exposing themselves to news coverage, Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary Nickerson, who presided over the trial, decided they remained impartial and should continue deliberations.

But the next day, everything changed.

“The record in this case would show that Rachel Huffman was thrown off the jury because she had phone contact with her boyfriend,” George said.

On Nov. 14, 2006, the seventh day of deliberation, Huffman was told that the court heard an audio tape of phone calls she had with her boyfriend in which she had discussed the case and had made disparaging comments about police.

“They had a conversation that was recorded, and they threw her off the jury because she said a few things about the case,” said Beth Karas, an attorney and former Court TV correspondent who covered Chris McCowen’s trial. “They found that she couldn’t be trusted, I guess, couldn’t be fair anymore and she was bounced.”

“At the time, the jury had indicated that they were deadlocked after a few days,” Karas continued. “We didn’t know the breakdown, and it was assumed that Rachel Huffman was somebody holding out for acquittal. As it turned out, she was on the fence. She wasn’t sure if McCowen was guilty. there were two others holding out for acquittal, not Rachel Huffman.”

Huffman was one of three jurors who signed affidavits following McCowen’s trial alleging incidents of racial bias and bias against McCowen during deliberations.

VIDEO: What 2 jurors say happened during Chris McCowen trial deliberations: Part 9
After Chris McCowen was found guilty on all charges, his former defense attorney said some jurors alleged racial bias on the panel.

The appeal made its way up to Massachusetts’ highest court, which handed down its ruling in December 2010, more than three years after McCowen's guilty verdict. Read the ruling HERE.

McCowen never testified at his trial, but at his sentencing, the court heard from him for the first time when he read a statement. McCowen said in his statement that he felt sorry for the Worthington family, for what had happened to Worthington and her daughter, "but all this time I've been innocent."

Having McCowen testify is something his former attorney Bob George said both he and McCowen agreed was too risky at the time.

“Christopher McCowen wouldn’t have been capable of facing cross examination because of his mental condition, because of his emotional condition,” George said. “There was no set of circumstances under which he could face a lengthy cross examination in which he would become confused and it would hurt his case.”

Since his conviction, McCowen has had one appeal and three motions for a new trial denied. Now, armed with a new defense attorney, McCowen is hoping to get new evidence that could warrant a new trial and overturn his conviction.

“At this point, Chris wants to get his story out there. Chris wants to explain… [he] regrets not testifying,” said his current attorney Gary Pelletier.

The Massachusetts Department of Corrections denied ABC News’ requests to interview McCowen in person. After several months, ABC News was able to talk to him by phone in August.

“There's a lot of speculation on the exact timeline of when she was killed, but I do understand where a lot of people think that I might have had something to do with it, but I didn’t have nothing to do with it,” McCowen told ABC News. “I’m not guilty of anything.”

“This is a nightmare for me,” he continued. “This is just one of the nightmares I’m trying to wake up from because I’m sorry that Christa is dead and everything, and I feel bad about that, but you know, it’s just—I was taken away from my kids. I was taken away from my family and everything too.”

Read more about our interview with Chris McCowen HERE

VIDEO: Chris McCowen shares his side of the Christa Worthington case: Part 10
McCowen, who was given three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, maintains his innocence.

In McCowen’s version of events, he said he was at Worthington’s house on the Thursday before her body was discovered because she asked him about throwing out her Christmas tree, and McCowen said he had consensual sex with her then. He said he had sex with Worthington just that one time and didn’t go back to her house after that. Her body was found on that Sunday, but he insists he didn’t kill her.

In his statements to police after his 2005 arrest, McCowen had said he and his friend Jeremy Frazier had gone over to Worthington’s house after a night of drinking. At one point, McCowen claimed Frazier had killed her.

McCowen told ABC News that he didn’t really remember what he told police during the six-hour interview he had with them after his arrest because he was under the influence of Percocet, cocaine and marijuana at the time. He also told ABC News he didn’t remember ever going over to Worthington’s house with Frazier. When asked why he named Frazier as her killer, McCowen told ABC News, “That’s what they [police] said that I did. I didn’t do that.”

Frazier denied having any involvement with Worthington’s death and denied going to her house with McCowen on the night in question. Police believed Frazier, and also believed that McCowen went over to Worthington's house by himself.

The prosecution, who declined to speak with ABC News for this story, maintains to this day that the evidence against McCowen, and him alone, was "overwhelming." Read District Attorney Michael O'Keefe's full statement to ABC News HERE.

McCowen’s current attorney Gary Pelletier said he worked with McCowen's former attorney Bob George on the first appeal in 2010. The appellate court found McCowen’s statements to police had been made voluntarily, that he was sober at the time and was not suffering from a mental disorder.

Pelletier is now working on getting McCowen a new trial, and the latest attempt stems from an issue that was raised at McCowen’s trial.

“There is a statement made by a major witness of the trial, Jeremy Frazier,” Pelletier said. "There was a telephone number, a 978 number... he said that was his pager number."

Frazier, who testified on behalf of the prosecution, told police that on the night of Jan. 4, 2002, the Friday before Worthington's body was found, he was with McCowen at a place called The Juice Bar and at a party afterwards, but then separated from McCowen and stayed with a friend for the rest of the night. He testified at McCowen's trial that he had a 978 number for his pager and phone records showed that he called that 978 number 36 times between Friday, Jan. 4, 2002 and Sunday, Jan. 6, 2002 -- several of which occurred around the time that prosecutors believe Worthington was killed. The number traces back to Concord, Massachusetts.

Frazier testified that he would call his pager "frequently" because he "would lose it because the clip was broken."

But, Pelletier said, “we suspect that" it's not his pager number, and if that's the case, "that certainly raises a lot of questions.”

Massachusetts State Trooper Christopher Mason, who investigated the Worthington case, testified at McCowen’s trial that they never looked into Frazier's pager number.

“I don’t believe a subpoena was done for that pager number, no,” Mason said on the stand.

At McCowen’s trial, his former defense attorney Bob George also asked Frazier about an incoming call to his phone at 12:03am on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2002, from the state police barracks in South Yarmouth -- the same barracks where McCowen was taken in for questioning after his arrest. The defense asked why Frazier would be getting a call from police barracks at the time that McCowen told police the two of them were allegedly either on their way or already at Worthington’s house, and Trooper Mason’s response at trial was, “I don’t know.”

On the stand, Frazier denied talking to anyone from the state police that night.

“The defense believed that Jeremy Frazier got some special treatment from the police and that they bought into his alibi a little to easier,” said Beth Karas.

Dan Abrams, ABC News' chief legal analyst, said, the police "didn't consider him [Frazier] a possible suspect and so his phone records, to them, weren't that relevant."

"The prosecution basically told the jury that this claim of some connection between Jeremy Frazier and the state police is complete and total nonsense," Abrams added.

Pelletier had filed subpoenas to get records from phone companies with more information about that pager number and Frazier’s phone. But then Pelletier said Verizon told him “they don’t keep records that far back and they would have destroyed the records of that account” unless the account was still in use. Pelletier said Verizon’s subpoena department also confirmed that the records were gone and said they only keep records for about eight to 10 years.

Unrelated to McCowen’s case, this summer, Frazier was charged with the rape of a child with force. He pleaded not guilty and was released on a $10,000 bail in August.

Jeremy Frazier is seen here in August 2017.
Jeremy Frazier is seen here in August 2017.
ABC News

His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 20. Frazier, as well as his parents and his attorney, declined ABC News’ requests for comment.

Aside from what McCowen has been going through in the years since Worthington’s death, her daughter, Ava, is now an adult attending college. She was raised by a friend of Worthington’s, who won custody of her before McCowen’s trial started.

Ava’s father Tony Jackett said she is “very popular” and “seems to be well adjusted.”

His wife Susan Jackett added that Ava was “fun” and “very affectionate, very smart… just a very well-rounded, wonderful girl.”

“And we’re very happy for that,” Tony Jackett said.

VIDEO: Where Christa Worthington's daughter is today: Part 11
Worthington's daughter Ava, who was 2 and a half when her mother was killed, is now a teenager.

This article is part of an investigative series by "20/20" and ABC Radio looking into the murder of Christa Worthington and the trial and conviction of Christopher McCowen. Watch the two-hour "20/20" documentary, "A Killing on the Cape," HERE and the six-part podcast can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and under the "Listen" tab on the ABC News app.

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