Wash. man accused of killing classmate on trial

May 19, 2012, 8:19 PM

Associated Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) – Mackenzie Cowell told her beauty school classmates she would be gone for 15 minutes just before she walked to her car and drove off. Four days later, police found her body miles away on the edge of the Columbia River.

The 17-year-old high school senior had been struck in the head, strangled and stabbed to death.

Residents of this agricultural city, which bills itself as the “Apple Capital of the World,” were on edge for months until police arrested a beauty school classmate for the murder.

Prosecutors said Christopher Scott Wilson had a fascination with death when he killed Cowell in February 2010, comparing him to a serial-killing character from the television show “Dexter” and describing his arm tattoo of Hannibal Lecter, another fictional character who was a serial killer. They ultimately charged Wilson, 31, with first-degree murder.

The contrast of Wilson, who has no previous criminal record, with the popular girl who was a member of her school dance team known as the Apple-Ettes has drawn widespread media attention, and the spotlight is likely to continue to shine on Wenatchee when jury selection begins Monday.

Leading the defense team is John Henry Browne, the attorney who also represents the U.S. Army soldier charged in the killing of 17 Afghan villagers in March.

Reid Cowell, Mackenzie’s father, recalled a driven girl with an “unreal schedule,” juggling high school in the morning, beauty school in the afternoon and dance classes and dance team practice.

“She would never have gone with anyone she didn’t trust,” Cowell said. “The evidence tells me the chances are slim it wasn’t him.”

Wilson reportedly rejected a 10-year plea deal after the defense won all of the major pretrial motions.

Browne said there are some cases where he encourages clients to plead guilty, even if they’re 100 percent innocent, because the deal is too good to turn down.

“This was like that,” he said. “It’s a significant risk for Chris, but he’s maintaining his innocence, and I admire that in him.”

At the same time, he said, “I’m very worried that he’s turned down an offer that was very, very reasonable.”

Cowell was last seen leaving the Academy of Hair Design, where she studied on weekday afternoons, on Feb. 9, 2010. She told classmates she would only be gone 15 minutes, and surveillance video later showed her walking to her car and driving away.

Police found her abandoned vehicle 5 miles away on a rural road. Her purse was still in the car, but her keys and cellphone were missing.

Four days later, Cowell’s body was found on the edge of the Columbia River, some 20 miles south of Wenatchee. In addition to the fatal wounds, the coroner found that someone had tried to amputate one of her arms after she died.

Over the next seven months, police chased hundreds of leads and interviewed more than 800 people. Ultimately, Wilson was accused of murdering Cowell in his Wenatchee apartment.

Three people reported seeing a person, closely matching Wilson’s description, walking down the road near where Cowell’s car had been abandoned. DNA found on duct tape near Cowell’s body was linked to Wilson.

According to court documents, several people contacted police with concerns about Wilson after Cowell disappeared.

One person wrote a letter to police claiming Wilson was obsessed with dead bodies and serial killers. Another said Wilson told her he liked to “cut people up” when he was working at area funeral homes.

However, a judge barred prosecutors from introducing that work history _ or mentioning his Hannibal Lecter tattoo _ at trial, and ruled that the defense may introduce evidence of other suspects.

The television show “48 Hours” has been following the case for a future broadcast, and at a recent preliminary hearing, concerns were raised about finding a jury pool that hasn’t been tainted by media coverage over the past two years.

Prosecutors have declined to discuss the case leading up to trial. Browne said he has filed a motion for change of venue, but will wait to see if an unbiased jury can be seated.

His past clients include serial killer Ted Bundy and Colton Harris-Moore, who gained international attention for stealing airplanes, boats and cars during a two-year run from the law that left him known as the “Barefoot Bandit.”

“Wenatchee is a small town and there’s been a lot of publicity both ways,” he said.

If convicted, standard sentencing calls for Wilson to serve 20 to 26 years in prison, but the judge could impose a tougher sentence.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Associated Press

Today in History: July 2, Amelia Earhart disappears

Today in History Today is Saturday, July 2, the 183rd day of 2022. There are 182 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On July 2, 1937, aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to make the first round-the-world flight along the equator. On this date: […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Baby’s father charged in slaying of stroller-pushing NYC mom

NEW YORK (AP) — The ex-boyfriend of a New York City woman shot dead Wednesday as she pushed their infant daughter in a stroller has been arrested and charged with killing her, police said Friday. Slain mother Azsia Johnson’s family identified suspect Isaac Argro as the baby’s father and said he routinely abused Johnson, beating […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Judge: Sheriff must post bail after anti-harassment order

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — The sheriff of Pierce County, Washington, was ordered to post $100,000 bail while he awaits trial on false-reporting charges related to his controversial confrontation last year with a Black newspaper carrier. Judge Jeffrey Jahns on Friday imposed the bail — 10 times the amount requested by prosecutors — during a hearing […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Lights illuminate a coal mine at twilight, Jan. 13, 2022, in Kemmerer, Wyo. With the nearby ...
Associated Press

Court leaves dwindling paths for Biden’s climate mission

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 500 days into his presidency, Joe Biden’s hope for saving the Earth from the most devastating effects of climate change may not quite be dead. But it’s not far from it. A Supreme Court ruling Thursday not only limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate pollution by power […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Sheriff: People getting out of Texas trailer were work crew

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A group of people who were spotted getting in and out of a parked semitrailer in San Antonio were part of a work crew, not a human-smuggling operation, authorities said Friday. Authorities checked the vehicle after someone alerted a deputy constable to it, just days after 53 migrants died when they […]
22 hours ago
Lauren Wright, a Navy spouse whose family was sickened by jet fuel in their tap water, shows her su...
Associated Press

Distrust remains after Navy report on tainted Hawaii water

HONOLULU (AP) — Lauren Wright continues to be leery of the water coming out of the taps in her family’s U.S. Navy home in Hawaii, saying she doesn’t trust that it’s safe. Wright, her sailor husband and their three children ages 8 to 17 were among the thousands of people who were sickened late last […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Wash. man accused of killing classmate on trial