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BOSTON � Massachusetts criminal defense lawyers are calling a post-verdict inquiry into jurors’ potential racial bias in the high-profile Cape Cod trial involving the murder of fashion writer Christa Worthington a necessary check on juror impartiality in a state with few safeguards against tainted juries. Unlike in many other states, Massachusetts judges generally don’t allow lawyers to conduct voir dire of potential individual jurors. Additionally, a state ethical rule bars lawyers from contacting jurors following a Massachusetts case. Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Gary A. Nickerson 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 at 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, 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 filed a separate motion for a new trial based on the failure of prosecution to provide exculpatory evidence. George said the post-verdict hearing may extend beyond late last week because the court has given him funding to hire experts on jury deliberations and racial bias, but neither was scheduled to appear on Jan. 10 or 11. Through a spokeswoman, Michael O’Keefe, district attorney for Cape Cod, 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 usually isn’t an option in Massachusetts, it’s hard for lawyers to detect jurors’ biases or prejudices, Chapman said.

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