From the beginning, race played a role in the prosecution of Christopher McCowen for the rape and murder of well-known fashion writer Christa Worthington. To some, the trial was even a spectacle and treated as “one of the most spectacular homicide cases in [Massachusetts'] history.” It quickly became a “made-for-cable-news tale of the heiress fashion writer and her lowly Portuguese fisherman lover, illicit sex, and an out-of-wedlock child,” all set in a seaside village. McCowen, an African-American garbage man, was right in the middle of it; police and prosecutors did not believe his assertions that he had consensual sex with Worthington and that someone else killed her. And after eight days of deliberations, it appeared that jurors also did not believe McCowen's defense. They convicted him of Worthington's rape and murder. Arguably, for some legal experts and scholars, that is where the story started to get more interesting. A few days after the deliberations, three jurors contacted McCowen's lawyer and said that racial prejudice tainted the deliberations and that at least one juror felt pressure to convict. The three jurors alleged that a white juror “used the term ‘black man’ in a racist manner,” that another white juror “told fellow jurors she feared McCowen because he was a black man staring at her,” and that a Cape Verdean juror said “blacks had a tendency toward violence.” Based on the jurors' affidavits, McCowen's lawyer filed a motion for a new trial, arguing, among other things, that racial prejudice denied McCowen a fair trial. Similar to Maine and the federal courts, Massachusetts' evidentiary guidelines bar jury testimony to impeach a verdict, except for evidence of extraneous prejudicial information or outside influences. There is disagreement among courts and scholars as to whether evidence of racial prejudice during deliberations is considered to be barred by the rule, within an exception to the rule, or whether racially prejudiced statements present constitutional problems to which the rule must give way. In Massachusetts, however, juror testimony to prove that racial prejudice tainted deliberations is allowed because doing otherwise “might well offend fundamental fairness.” In practice, however, only a few jurors had ever been recalled at one time. In contrast to Massachusetts, the Tenth Circuit does not allow jurors to testify to show whether racial prejudice infected deliberations, though that does not mean deliberations are free from racial prejudice. Here in Maine, the law on juror testimony is not entirely clear. Trial courts have ample authority to allow post-verdict juror testimony in some instances, but the right case has not yet emerged to test the law on testimony to prove racial prejudice tainted deliberations. Accordingly, this article will explore whether the rule pits process values against notions of fairness; whether Maine trial judges have the authority to admit juror testimony in some instances; and whether it is possible to do so without undermining important process values, both before and after the verdict.
Andrew C. Helman,
Racism, Juries, and Justice: Addressing Post-Verdict Juror Testimony of Racial Prejudice During Deliberations,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol62/iss1/12