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BOSTON � A Massachusetts state court judge has rejected allegations of juror racial bias and a request for a new trial for the murder of Cape Cod fashion writer Christa Worthington. In an April 4 order, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Gary A. Nickerson wrote that one juror’s description of defendant Christopher M. McCowen as a “big black man,” were “descriptive, identifying who inflicted the injuries and the size of the assailant” and not an indication of racial bias. Commonwealth v. McCowen, No. BACR2005-00109 (Barnstable Co., Mass., Super. Ct.) In November 2006, a jury found McCowen, a garbage collector, guilty of burglary, first-degree murder and aggravated rape of Worthington, who was white. Nickerson sentenced McCowen to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder and concurrent life sentences for the rape and burglary charges. Nickerson held hearings in January and February about the motion for post-verdict inquiry of jurors to question jurors about allegedly racist statements made during deliberations and to hear from expert witnesses. [Related article: " Judge calls back jurors for bias query."] In his order about the motion, Nickerson also noted that a second juror immediately objected to the “big black man” description. The juror who made the remark denied that it was racist and deliberations continued. “The efficacy of an immediate retort to an inappropriate comment during jury deliberations is well recognized in the case law,” wrote Nickerson. Nickerson also noted that all of the jurors “passed muster” during voir dire questions about racial bias. “The statements of [the two jurors] severed that salutary purpose of exposing the jurors to healthy, albeit heated, discussion about identifying the defendant by the color of his skin, thereby blunting the effect of the stereotype,” wrote Nickerson. “Even if Mr. McCowen had met his burden, the Commonwealth proved on the totality of the evidence the absence of prejudice to the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.” Michael O’Keefe, district attorney for Cape Cod, said Nickerson issued a “thoughtful and thorough opinion” that was “entirely consistent with the evidence presented at the motion.” Bob George, a Boston lawyer at Robert A. George & Associates who represents convicted defendant Christopher M. McCowen, could not be reached for comment.

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