A former Massachusetts trash collector is speaking out on broadcast TV this week for the first time since he was convicted of raping and murdering a 46-year-old single mother more than 15 years ago.
The death of Christa Worthington in Truro, Massachusetts, gripped the small Cape Cod community and made headlines around the country.
The killing remained unsolved for three years until the surprise arrest of Christopher McCowen, Worthington’s former trash collector, who was placed at the scene by DNA evidence. A disputed statement McCowen gave to police, admitting he had sex with Worthington and beat her, was also damning. He blamed the fatal stabbing on a friend, who police said had an alibi.
McCowen has steadfastly maintained his sex with Worthington was consensual — a claim he reiterated in a new interview with ABC News for a Friday night episode of 20/20, which re-examines the case and questions McCowen’s guilt.
“There’s a lot of speculation on the exact timeline of when she was killed,” he told ABC. “I’m not guilty of anything … this is a nightmare for me.”
In a clip from the episode (above), McCowen explains his version of how he crossed paths with Worthington, a noted former fashion writer who retreated to rural Truro in 1998 and later gave birth to daughter Ava.
The 2-year-old girl was discovered, unharmed, with her mom’s body in January 2002.
“Being a garbage man, I’d get to go by everybody’s houses and get to talk to them briefly,” McCowen tells ABC News’ Sunny Hostin of meeting Worthington. “She asked me to come in her house and to look at her Christmas tree.”
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McCowen says he found Worthington attractive — “She had something with her” — and that being near her in her home, “One thing just led to another.”
Asked to elaborate, he says, “It was just a mutual thing between two people. And we started kissing and then we winded up, ended up having sex.”
But he claimed they only had sex the one time and it was with consent.
“At this point Chris wants to get his story out there,” McCowen’s attorney tells 20/20 in the video preview. “Chris wants to explain, Chris regrets not testifying.”
McCowen appeared to cry as he was found guilty in November 2006, according to the New York Times, and he told the court he was “an innocent man in this case.”
Similarly, an attorney for McCowen argued at trial that police had coerced his confession and dismissed his story of consensual sex with the victim: “As soon as they see the black garbage man, it’s rape.”
In 2008, McCowen’s verdict was scrutinized by a judge when three jurors claimed others in the jury had made racist comments during the trial that could have betrayed a bias in the decision, according to the Times.
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Not so, said prosecutors.
“We were convinced, we remain convinced, and the jury certainly was convinced, I believe by their verdict, that Mr. McCowen acted alone in this terrible crime,” the district attorney reportedly said after the conviction, which McCowen unsuccessfully appealed.
In that 2008 racial-bias inquiry, the judge found no evidence for a retrial.
Speaking of Worthington in court, cousin Mary remembered her as “a loving, vibrant woman who had the best belly laugh in the world.” Following her death, her daughter was raised by a friend.
20/20 airs Friday (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.