The McCowen murder trial began at the Barnstable Superior Court of Massachusetts on October 18, 2006, and was presided over by Justice Gary Nickerson. The trial kicked off with opening statements made by lead prosecutor and Assistant District Attorney Robert Welsh III, who stated that he would prove that McCowen was the sole perpetrator in the rape and murder of Christa in January 2002. The prosecution contended that the DNA match recovered from the crime scene, along with McCowen's confession to police of having had sex with Christa before beating her up, was enough evidence to implicate him in the murder.
However, the defense team led by attorney Robert George claimed during opening statements that racial prejudice and a 'botched' investigation led to the "unjust" arrest of McCowen who was one in a long line of men suspected of having been involved in Christa's murder. The defense team claimed that "the murder scene was compromised by the large number of responders who trampled over the scene, that investigators refused to consider the possibility that McCowen, a black garbage hauler, had a consensual sexual relationship with the white, Vassar-educated victim which could explain the McCowen DNA at the scene and that McCowen had been coerced into making a damaging statement to police on the night of his arrest," the Cape Cod Times reported. Moreover, they stated that McCowen's statements made during his interrogation should be discounted because he was mentally unable to understand the severity of the situation, due to his low IQ of 78 and the fact that he was under the influence of prescription painkillers and marijuana during the interview.
One of the first witnesses to take the stand during the opening of the trial was Christa's cousin, Jan Worthington, 54, the first rescue worker to respond to the 911 call. She said in her testimony that when she arrived at the scene, she was shocked to find Christa dead on the floor between the kitchen and the hallway of her home. She claimed that she immediately surmised that the death was a homicide, prompting her to call for back-up.
While Jan was on the stand, the defense team questioned her about the crime scene and whether she may have disturbed evidence. There were contradictory reports made by Jan: at one time she told a reporter that she touched Christa's body to feel a pulse and an even earlier admission made to police where she said she "'freaked out' upon seeing the body and never touched or even approached it," Ryan reported. Jan claimed that the accurate version of events was that given to a reporter, an account which had been filmed for an HBO documentary in which she was also professionally involved.
The credibility of Jan's testimony was called into question because of the deal she struck up with HBO, who was filming the court proceedings, and Lifetime, that covered the murder in a documentary and teleplay. Jan claimed to be netting close to $60,000. The defense argued that she was exploiting her cousin by profiting from her murder. Even though Jan admitted to profiting, she said that she was mainly trying to protect Christa's image, Ryan reported.