July 18, 2011
An excerpt from Peter Manso’s recently published book Reasonable Doubt: The Fashion Writer, Cape Cod, and the Trial of Chris McCowen.
by Peter Manso
The American murder trial as a metaphor for the nation as a whole has become, in recent years, almost a cliché. Our best writers have seized upon it as a vehicle of self-expression. Academics argue over its myths and realities. The producers of TV series capitalize on its imagery, earning the networks heady profits second only to those raked in by Oprah. At some point or another, almost every American, rich or poor, white or black, has confronted the American justice system and its complexities—with pride, skepticism, awe, revulsion, or a combination of all these.
I began this project with the assumption that the Christa Worthington murder would be the basis for my “trial book” (every journalist wants to do a trial book), that it would take only 18 months to complete, and that my involvement as the author would be no different from my involvement in the half-dozen other books I’ve written, even though I’d known Christa Worthington, my neighbor in the town of Truro on the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for more than a dozen years.
Like so many assumptions, these proved false, largely because of what I found while digging into the crime, its investigation by the Massachusetts State Police, and the trial I’d planned to cover in the style of the late Dominick Dunne, notebook in hand, memorializing courtroom events in a so-called objective manner. Instead, I wound up lending assistance to the defense team and soon found myself in a great deal of trouble—specifically (not to say surreally), hauled into court, where I was indicted on a series of felonies after voicing my belief, both in print and as a guest commentator on Court TV, that the Cape and Islands district attorney in charge of the case (and also the case against me) was an ambitious, racially insensitive politico who’d cut corners in the courtroom and during the three and a half years he’d supervised the police investigation. My run-in with the lawman, however, is a story for another time.