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BOSTON � Massachusetts criminal defense lawyers are calling a post-verdict inquiry into jurors’ potential racial bias in the high-profile trial for the Cape Cod murder of fashion writer Christa Worthington a necessary check on juror impartiality in a state with few safeguards against tainted juries. Unlike many other states, Massachusetts judges generally don’t allow lawyers to conduct voir dire of potential individual jurors. A state ethical rule also bars lawyers from contacting jurors following a Massachusetts case. Massachusetts Superior Court judge Gary A. Nickerson has scheduled hearings for Jan. 10 and Jan. 11 to question jurors about racist statements allegedly made by various jurors during deliberations. Commonwealth v. McCowen, No. BACR2005-00109, (Barnstable Co., Mass., Super. Ct.). Bob George, a Boston lawyer with Robert A. George & Associates who represents convicted defendant Christopher M. McCowen, said three jurors contacted him separately within a few days of the Nov. 16, 2006 verdict about the racially-charged atmosphere in the jury room. “I have a duty, when they make those kinds of allegations, to meet with them and take down what their claims are and how it impacts jury deliberations,” George said. A life sentence The jury found McCowen, a black garbage collector, guilty of burglary and first-degree murder and aggravated rape of Worthington, who was white. Nickerson sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder and concurrent life sentences for the rape and burglary charges. McCowen, who did not testify during the trial, told police that he and Worthington had consensual sex and that he beat her, but that a friend killed her. George has also filed a separate motion for new trial based on the failure of prosecution to provide exculpatory evidence. George also said the post-verdict hearing may extend beyond this week because the court has given him funding to hire experts on jury deliberations and racial bias, but neither are scheduled to appear on Jan. 10 or 11. Through a spokeswoman, Michael O’Keefe, district attorney for the Cape & Islands, declined to talk about the case. The post-verdict hearing may be unusual, but the dearth of hearings doesn’t mean there are no problems with the state’s judicial system, said Randy Chapman, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and an attorney at Chapman & Chapman in Chelsea, Mass. Since voir dire of individual jurors isn’t usually an option in Massachusetts, it’s hard for lawyers to detect jurors’ biases or prejudices, Chapman said. “It’s rare that a judge [has a post-verdict hearing], but I don’t believe it’s rare that jury verdicts are being affected by external influences such as racial attitudes or other prejudices,” Chapman said. Jeffrey Denner, a Boston-based criminal and civil defense attorney at Denner Pellegrino, said he’s never been able to question a juror during voir dire during 35 years of practice in the state. “It makes a lawyer much less able to effectively pick a jury in a meaningful way,” Denner said. “You’re making guesses as opposed to judgments that you can elicit from your own questions.” Massachusetts’s defense attorneys are also hampered by the rule prohibiting lawyers from making post-trial contact with jurors, Chapman said. “We don’t do as much as we should do to ferret out the biases and prejudices of jurors,” Chapman said.

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