DNA deal reached in Christa Worthington murder case

by jeeg 7. May 2014 22:15


State police will destroy electronic data containing the profile of a former Provincetown man's DNA that was collected during a highly publicized murder investigation, according to a settlement reached in Suffolk Superior Court.

Keith Amato filed suit in 2008 alleging that the state police, Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office and state police crime lab violated his civil rights after the investigation into the murder of Truro resident Christa Worthington by retaining his DNA profile longer than originally promised.

On March 25, Suffolk Superior Court approved a settlement indicating the state police will "destroy any electronic data containing a profile of Amato's DNA or other electronic information obtained from the analysis of Amato's DNA," according to court records. Police will be allowed to keep paper copies of Amato's DNA information as well as "electronic versions of narrative reports that reference his DNA information," according to the settlement.

"I'm absolutely satisfied," Amato, who now lives off-Cape, told the Times on Monday.

Worthington, a fashion writer who left behind a life in New York and Paris to raise her daughter in a quiet family cottage, was found dead Jan. 6, 2002. She had been raped, beaten and stabbed multiple times. Her 2½-year-old daughter, Ava, was alone with her mother's body for two days.

Amato was interviewed by police in the weeks that followed as the investigation was expanded to include people who were in Worthington's life even if they didn't know her well, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said.

Amato, who was related to Worthington through marriage, said he voluntarily provided a DNA sample at that time to help with the investigation. Police told Amato if his sample did not match, it would be destroyed, along with any information obtained from it, according to the 2008 complaint.

"Nobody in Amato's position would be told what he is claiming he was told," O'Keefe said Monday. A person in the victim's life who provides a voluntary DNA sample is not told anything except that it will help to exclude the person, O'Keefe said.

As leads evaporated in the three years after Worthington's murder, the district attorney's office conducted a "DNA sweep," collecting voluntary DNA samples from about 110 male residents in the Truro area in the hope they would match biological evidence collected from the victim's clothing. These men were told their samples would be returned or destroyed if they did not match.

Before these random samples were tested, a DNA sample collected from Christopher McCowen, Worthington's garbage collector, came back as "a hit," O'Keefe said. McCowen was convicted in 2006 of Worthington's murder and is serving a life sentence.

Because these random samples were never processed in the lab, they never became evidence in the case, O'Keefe said. The sample from Amato, however, who was a person in Worthington's life, was processed and entered into evidence, O'Keefe said.

In November 2006, O'Keefe's office announced that voluntary samples collected during the DNA sweep would be returned or destroyed. At that time, Amato requested that his sample be destroyed, but he received no response from O'Keefe, according to the complaint.

"The records retention law requires all evidence in a murder case be retained for 50 years," O'Keefe said. "That's why I think the court ... made a point of saying the electronic records as well as the paper records of the narrative of the DNA sample can be retained."

Amato erroneously tried to include himself in the group of men who voluntarily gave their DNA samples during the sweep, O'Keefe said.

In 2008, after the lawsuit already had been filed, Amato's cheek swab was returned to his attorneys at the Boston firm Proskauer Rose LLP. The firm agreed to donate its time to the project after being approached by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which Amato contacted after he did not receive a response regarding his sample, according to the complaint.

Although the physical DNA sample was returned, Amato's attorneys worried that an electronic profile of his DNA could theoretically be used in other cases, said Mark Batten, one of the attorneys.

In 2009, the lawsuit was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Nancy Staffler Holtz, who found the law requires DNA and other case information to be retained for a certain period of time. But two years later, the state Appeals Court overturned the dismissal, saying Amato was free to "pursue claims for equitable relief."

Amato's DNA profile was not entered into the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a national DNA database overseen by the FBI, because a person must be convicted of a list of offenses to be included. The basis for the lawsuit was invasion of privacy, Batten said.

The law "doesn't authorize a crime lab to ... keep DNA profiles on innocent people who cooperated with police voluntarily," said Christopher Ott, communications director for the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Amy Anthony, Cape Cod Times


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