"Love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever."
It was the 6th of January 2002. A Sunday. That afternoon, Tim Arnold called 911 from the home of his former girlfriend, forty six year old Christa Worthington, in Truro, Massachusetts, United States. He told the Operator:
"Please send somebody to 50 Depot Road. It's Christa Worthington. I don't know what happened to her. I think she fell down or something. I'm sure she's dead."
Christa, a fashion writer, lived in the seaside cottage in Truro with her two year old daughter Ava. She had lived there since 1997 when she moved to Truro from New York in search of a quieter and more stable life. But in the weeks leading up to that day, she told friends that she wanted to return to New York. She missed the fast pace of her former New York life and wanted to restart her career and make enough money to give her the freedom to do whatever she wanted with the one true love of her life, her little girl Ava.
According to Tim, he stopped by the cottage to return a flashlight at 4.30pm that afternoon on the 6th of January. He had borrowed it from Christa and lived close to her home. Tim told police that when he went inside, he found Christa lying on the floor of the hallway just off the kitchen. Ava was by her side. She was physically unharmed.
When police arrived at Christa's home, they confirmed that she was dead. But it was not the result of some sort of fall or an accident. Christa was naked from the waist down. Her legs were spread apart and there was blood on her body, especially around the torso area. Christa's face was covered in bruises and she had been stabbed once through the left lung.
When police searched the house, they discovered that the back door leading from the driveway into the kitchen was open and the damage to the door and deadbolt indicated it had been forced open. It looked like a struggle had taken place outside the cottage. Christa's car was parked on the driveway and on the ground between her car and the cottage, police found glasses and a barrette, keys and socks. There were drag marks in the dirt on the driveway too. Police believed that Christa was attacked outside her cottage and then dragged inside.
Police found Ava's little bloody handprints all over the cottage. Her bloody handprints were found on a Disney videotape and it looked as if Ava had tried to put into the VCR. Her bloody handprints were also on her sippy cup and a box of Cheerios. How long had Ava been in the cottage with Christa’s body? At that point, police had no idea.
Police took a vaginal swab from Christa's body to try to establish if Christa had been raped. They found trace amounts of dried blood under her fingernails. Small pieces of grass was found in her hair, both on her head and in her pubic area which indicated to police that they were correct in their belief that she was attacked outside the cottage.
Police began a homicide investigation. It was the first murder in Truro in thirty years. The vaginal swab confirmed that semen was present and police believed that Christa was raped. They believed that the person who raped Christa was the same person who killed her so they needed to find a DNA match.
Police established a timeline. On the Friday night, the 4th of January, Christa spoke to her babysitter on the phone at 8pm. She had an appointment for her hair at a local hairdressers on Saturday, the 5th of January, at noon but she missed that and didn't notify them that she wouldn't be able to attend. Due to that police believed she was murdered sometime between 8pm on the Friday night and noon on the Saturday. Christa had newspapers delivered to her home every day and the Saturday and Sunday newspapers were still at the bottom of her driveway where the newspaper delivery person had left them.
In the course of the investigation, police interviewed anyone who knew Christa or who had visited her home. They spoke to Tim as he was the person who found her and there were rumors that while their relationship was over, Tim may have wanted something more longterm. Police also found his sperm on a blanket that had been thrown over Christa after police arrived at the cottage. He denied any involvement and police later ruled him out as a suspect. They were aware he had dated Christa and stayed at her cottage in the past so the semen found on the blanket wasn't that surprising. Furthermore, his semen wasn't a match to the semen found on Christa's body.
Police also spoke to Ava's father, a man named Tony Jackett. Tony was a married man and had an affair with Christa. When she became pregnant, she asked him to tell his wife and he eventually told his wife Susan about Ava and the affair. Christa didn't want Tony to leave Susan but she did want him to help support Ava and they set up an agreement so that he would pay child support and he also spent time with Ava. His wife Susan was very forgiving and she forgave him and even welcomed Ava into her life.
Tony told police that things between him and Christa were good and he had no reason to want Christa dead. Susan told police that Tony was with her when Christa was murdered.
A year after Christa's murder, the crime lab produced results from the DNA tests and the DNA from Christa didn't match Tim or Tony or anyone else police had questioned for that matter. At that point, it looked like there was a possibility that Christa's killer would never be caught. But police didn't give up and three years after Christa's murder, they asked for voluntary DNA samples from almost everyone in the area. And it worked. They got a match. Christopher Chris McCowen. It was determined his DNA was present at the home of Christa and from the vaginal swab that was taken.
Chris worked for a disposal company and police discovered that every Thursday, he removed the trash from outside Christa's cottage. When police spoke to Chris, he told them that he didn't know Christa. He said that he had never spoken to her but sometimes, they waved at each other when he collected the trash.
Chris was questioned. He maintained that he had never even spoken to Christa and was never inside her home. He told police that while he had sex with some women on his trash route, Christa wasn't one of them.
The police told Chris that he had to tell the truth as they found his DNA on Christa's body. At that point, he changed his story and told police that:
“It could have been me.”
Police asked him to tell them what happened. He said that on the Friday night, the 4th of January, he was out drinking in the parking lot of the Juice Bar with a friend named Jeremy Frazier. He admitted that he was "piss drunk."
According to Chris, Jeremy then drove him to Dennis. Chris wanted to visit the mother of his baby. He claimed that he was there for between forty to sixty minutes and after that, he went back to the Juice Bar. Further questioning led to him revealing that he had sex with Christa the night of the 4th of January but it was consensual sex.
When asked how he got to Christa's cottage, Chris told police that Jeremy drove him there. According to Chris, Jeremy went inside the cottage with him. Chris told police that he had sex with Christa in the hallway off the kitchen. That was where Christa's body was later found. At one point, he told police, that they may have had sex in the living room.
According to Chris, Christa was fine afterwards and he gave her his phone number but then she flipped when she saw Jeremy going through her belongings and she began screaming at them as they were trying to leave. Chris continued outlining the details of that night to police but he gave different versions as to what happened after they left the cottage. Initially, he said that Christa followed them outside the cottage and confronted Jeremy on the driveway and Jeremy repeatedly punched her. Jeremy ran after her when she ran back into the cottage. He punched her repeatedly inside the cottage. According to Chris, when the assault on Christa was taking place, he was sitting in Jeremy's car at that time. When Jeremy returned to the car, he told police that he told Jeremy that Christa was calling police inside her cottage. At that point, according to Chris, Jeremy ran back towards the cottage and kicked in the front door. Chris told police that Jeremy was inside the cottage for around ten minutes and that he remained in the car the entire time and had no idea what happened during that ten minute window.
But when police told him that they thought he didn't tell them everything, he gave them a different version of events. Chris said that he wasn't in Jeremy's car when Jeremy punched Christa and that he too was involved in that altercation. Chris admitted to the police that he punched Christa too in the face and chest once. The blows Chris inflicted on her knocked her out and when she fell, she hit her head on the gravel driveway. He told police that she hit it so hard that:
“he could still hear it to this day.”
But even after that, Chris admitted that they didn't stop savagely beating Christa and he told police that:
“We put the boots to her.”
He and Jeremy then dragged Christa inside the cottage. But according to Chris, he only had sex and then beat Christa, he didn't kill her. He blamed that on Jeremy. He told police that Jeremy stabbed Christa in the chest with a knife he got from her own kitchen.
Police asked him what would happen if Jeremy denied the version of events provided by Chris and if Jeremy had an alibi. Chris said:
“Then it's all on me․”
When police spoke to Jeremy, he admitted he was at the Juice Bar with Chris on the Friday night and drove him to Dennis afterwards. But according to Jeremy, he then went back to the Juice Bar and to a house party in Eastham with a different friend named Shawn Mulvey. He said that Chris was at the party too but he drove there himself in a different vehicle. Jeremy told police that when the party ended, he stayed at Shawn's house that night. Shawn confirmed same. Chris didn't go back with them to Shawn's house.
Police believed Jeremy and furthermore, Jeremy's DNA wasn't found anywhere on Christa's body.
Chris was charged with first degree murder, aggravated rape and aggravated burglary.
It was the Prosecution case that Chris raped, viciously attacked and stabbed Christa and that he acted alone. District Attorney Michael O'Keefe told the Court:
"That he went to this location for the purpose of having sex with this person, that was denied to him, and in a rage, he raped and killed her."
The Court heard that the case against Chris rested on two vital pieces of evidence; the DNA and the statement Chris gave to police.
The Court heard that the DNA proves, beyond any doubt, that Chris had sex with Christa. The Jury heard about the statements Chris made to the police.
It was the Prosecution case that Chris was out that Friday night and was drinking heavily with friends and at some point during the night, he wanted sex. The Jury heard that the Prosecution believed Chris drove to Christa's cottage at 1.30 am. It was their case that he wasn't in a relationship with Christa and had never been with her before but was aware that she lived in the cottage with just her two year old daughter. They believed that he went to her home, raped and savagely beat her before he stabbed her to death.
The Medical Examiner testified that the cause of death was a stab wound to Christa's chest. The Court heard that the knife entered the front of Christa's chest and penetrated her left lung. The tip of the blade exited through her back. In short, the blade went right through Christa's body.
The Medical Examiner told the Jury that Christa had suffered contusions to her nose and chest, abrasions on her face, hands, arms, and legs, and internal hemorrhaging in her skull. They were consistent with blunt impact.
It was the Defense case that Chris was an innocent man and any statements he may or may not have made to the police should be disregarded as he was a poorly educated man with low intelligence. According to his Attorneys, he simply did not understand what was happening after he was arrested:
"This is a person with a 76 to a 78 IQ on his best day, meaning on a day where he's not using drugs and alcohol, not under pressure."
They argued that Chris was using Percocet the day he was questioned by the police and he was using marijuana which made it easy for him to be manipulated by the police.
His Attorney, Bob George, told the Jury that:
"A person of Chris McCowen's race, class and limited capacities was an easy target. "
Bob asked the Jury to see the statements for what they were; a false confession. He also argued that a thorough investigation had not been conducted and that certain leads weren't followed and that some footprints and palm prints remained unidentified.
Bob argued that there was no indication that a rape had taken place either and any sex may well have been consensual and that his client and Christa may have been involved:
"Chris McCowen could have reasonably had a consensual sexual relationship with Christa Worthington and anybody who doesn't believe it is someone who just can't accept it."
He told the Jury that his client's DNA was found because Christa voluntarily had sex with Chris. He told the Jury that it probably took place on the Thursday when Chris collected the trash outside her home. And that that wasn't an indication that he killed her. It was their case that somebody else entirely killed her.
During closing arguments, Bob told the Court:
"It's based on an assumption, a false assumption, that a Vassar educated, forty six year old world traveling wealthy heiress could not possibly have had consensual sex with a black, uneducated, troubled, garbage man."
Chris did not testify.
The Jury deliberated for five days and on the sixth day, the Judge told the Court that one Juror would no longer be on the Jury. The Juror was a white woman whose boyfriend was arrested in an unrelated crime and in a phone call with him, she was taped criticizing the police and talking about bias. A new Juror was selected and two days later, a verdict was reached. Guilty.
Chris was convicted of first degree murder, aggravated rape and aggravated burglary.
Before Chris was sentenced, he addressed the Court for the first time:
"This case here, is a very horrendous case. I feel sorry for the victim's family, her daughter, and her. I have never meant for this to ever take place. But, your honor, all I can say is that I am an innocent man in this case...and that's all I got to say."
Chris was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
His Attorney Bob told the Court he planned to appeal. He didn't believe there would even be charges brought against Chris, let alone a conviction, if Chris was white:
"If you had the same body of evidence and Johnny Whitebread was home for the holidays from college and was from an affluent family on the Cape and he was not black, the same body of evidence, he wouldn't have been charged."
Shortly after the conviction, in a somewhat unprecedented move, the Jury were called back into the Court. Several Jurors had made allegations of racial bias during their deliberations. The Judge questioned each of the twelve Jurors about it. It was clear from their statements that there had been racial tension in the Jury room.
Bob wanted a retrial. But the Judge disagreed. He upheld Chris's conviction. In 2010, the State Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the Judge and Chris remains incarcerated. Despite that, Chris continues to maintain that he is innocent. He told “20/20” that he regrets that he didn't testify at his Trial and tell his side of the story. He claimed he knew Christa from his trash route:
“Being a garbage man, you know, I get to go by everybody’s houses and, you know, get to talk to them briefly. She asked me to come in the house and to look at her Christmas tree.”
According to Chris, Christa wanted him to dispose of her Christmas tree so he went inside her home to take a look on the Thursday, the day before her death, and one thing led to another:
“It just like it was just a mutual thing between two people, I guess. We started kissing. Then we ended up having, having sex.”
He told 20/20 that it only happened once.
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“She's not with me, and she's not with my parents, and at that moment I know that my sister's dead.”
- Alayne Katz, Gail's sister
"Madness, as you know, is a lot like gravity. All it takes is a little push."
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