Sam Sommers, a Tufts University assistant professor of psychology, testified last week as an expert witness on whether juror racism tainted Christopher McCowen’s first-degree murder conviction in 2006. A predominantly white jury found McCowen, who is black, guilty of the 2002 murder of Christa Worthington. Also convicted of aggravated rape and aggravated burglary, McCowan was sentenced to state prison for life without parole. The psychology expert witness testified on how racial stereotypes can affect jury deliberations. Mary Ann Bragg of Cape Cod Times also reports:
…Sommers acknowledged most individuals are not “at the mercy of these stereotypes” and they have the capacity – if reminded about the seriousness of the decision – to put their stereotypes aside enough to serve as impartial jurors…In Nickerson’s questioning of 12 jurors last week, the judge focused primarily on three alleged incidents of potential juror misconduct: whether juror Marlo George, who is white, used the term “black man” in a racist manner; whether juror Carol Cahill, who is also white, told fellow jurors she feared McCowen because he was a black man staring at her; and whether juror Eric Gomes, a Cape Verdean, told fellow jurors that blacks had a tendency toward violence.
…Sommers testified that choices of adjectives to describe a defendant such as “black” show what information a speaker thinks is relevant. Use of the adjective “black” would be warranted if the speaker needed to distinguish between two men, one black and one white, Sommers said. Otherwise, “it’s an indication of the belief that race is relevant,” the Tufts professor testified.
After the hearing, Sommers said that Marlo George’s use of the term “black man” could be construed as racist. “That is certainly a stereotypical statement,” he said.