WENATCHEE — Christopher Scott Wilson rejected a manslaughter plea that could have sent him to prison for less than seven years in the death of Mackenzie Cowell, according to Wilson’s family.
An email obtained by The Wenatchee World shows Chelan County Prosecutor Gary Riesen made the offer April 23, saying he’d recommend a 10-year sentence if Wilson would plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter in Cowell’s death, and second-degree assault in an unrelated incident.
With time already served since his October 2010 arrest and presumed “good time” while in prison, Wilson would likely serve no more than 6 1/2 years.
Facing trial May 22 on a charge of first-degree murder, Wilson rejected the offer Monday, his mother Kathleen Zornes said.
Wilson, 31, could serve 20 to 26 years if convicted under the standard sentencing range for murder. However, either a manslaughter plea or a murder conviction would allow Superior Court Judge John Bridges to impose a sentence higher than the standard range, up to life.
“I cannot discuss plea negotiations,” Riesen said in an email when asked for comment. Emma Scanlan, an associate of Wilson’s attorney John Henry Browne of Seattle, said Browne’s office also would not comment.
Cowell’s father, Reid Cowell, said Riesen’s office had briefed him about plea negotiations, and he opposed the idea of a charge lower than murder.
“The only way that we’re really interested in any form of a plea less than what he’s being charged with is if he would give us some information, and tell us what happened,” Reid Cowell said. “But nobody believes he’ll ever tell anybody anything.”
He said he believes Riesen ultimately rejected a plea offer from Browne, rather than Wilson rejecting Riesen’s offer.
“The bottom line is that’s what they offered,” Cowell said. “And we said no, that’s not gonna cut it. … They just weren’t willing to do enough.”
Mackenzie Cowell, a Wenatchee High School senior and hairstyling student, disappeared from downtown Wenatchee Feb. 9, 2010, and was found dead four days later at Crescent Bar. She had been strangled and stabbed in the neck, and suffered a blow to the head.
Cowell and Wilson were fellow students at the Academy of Hair Design in Wenatchee. The police task force investigating the crime said they found Cowell’s blood in the carpet of Wilson’s Wenatchee apartment, and a length of duct tape near her body stained with her blood and genetic material that matched Wilson’s paternal DNA type.
The email shows Riesen sought a plea of manslaughter in Cowell’s killing and an assault plea in the case of Shawna Novak, a Wenatchee woman who said Wilson squeezed her until she could not breathe at his apartment in early 2010. She told police the incident happened prior to Mackenzie Cowell’s murder.
Novak’s claim, which went unreported to police until after Wilson’s arrest, was used by Riesen to argue motive in the Cowell case. He sought to use her statement, plus Wilson’s online activities and statements from former coworkers, to convince a jury that Wilson had a fascination with serial killers and violent death that formed a motive for the crime.
But Bridges threw out Novak’s testimony April 12, saying, “I really cannot conclude that Ms. Novak was strangled.” No charges have been brought in Novak’s case.
Wilson was initially charged with second-degree murder after his arrest. Riesen later upgraded that charge to first-degree murder, saying the steps taken in Cowell’s killing amounted to premeditation.
About 95 percent of all U.S. felony convictions are obtained through plea bargaining, in which a defendant pleads guilty to a charge less than the original. In March the U.S. Supreme Court validated plea bargaining as a constitutional right of defendants.
Washington and 46 other states allow defendants to avoid trial with an Alford plea, in which they maintain innocence in the crime but agree that enough evidence exists to convict them.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123