WENATCHEE — A Chicago FBI agent who helped win a celebrity murder case last week will testify on cellphone activity in the Mackenzie Cowell murder trial.
Special Agent Nikki Skovran, an expert in cellphone records analysis, appears on the list of prosecution witnesses to be offered by Chelan County Prosecutor Gary Riesen. The trial of Christopher Scott Wilson, 31, in the 2010 murder of Cowell, a 17-year-old Wenatchee High School student, is set to begin jury selection on Monday.
Skovran previously took the stand in the Chicago trial of William Balfour, convicted Friday of murdering the mother, brother and nephew of Oscar-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson. She testified that cellular calls Balfour made on the day of the murders appeared to originate near the victims’ home.
Cellphone signals and their points of origin have figured heavily in the Cowell investigation. Cowell disappeared Feb. 9, 2010, after leaving the Academy of Hair Design in downtown Wenatchee. Her body was found four days later on the Columbia riverbank at Crescent Bar. She had been stabbed and strangled, and suffered blunt force trauma to the head.
A police task force followed multiple leads for several months before Wilson, a fellow student at the academy, was arrested in October 2010. Police said they found Cowell’s blood soaked into the carpet and underpad of his apartment at 119 Okanogan St., and genetic material matching his paternal DNA type on a length of duct tape recovered near Cowell’s body.
After Cowell’s murder, police said cell tower records appeared to show her phone was at the Orondo Street boat launch about 3:40 p.m. Feb. 9, less than an hour after she left the hair academy. Later, after Wilson’s arrest, detectives cited a Verizon cell-activity analysis that showed “an equal 90 percent probability that calls and text activity from Cowell’s phone” from 3 p.m. to 3:42 p.m. “took place at either Wilson’s apartment … or at the Orondo Street Boat Launch.”
Aside from her testimony, Skovran has given lectures and law enforcement workshops on the use of cell data in criminal investigations. In the Hudson murder case, Skovran testified last month that the defendant’s calls within the timeframe of the murders were relayed through the cell tower nearest the victims’ home. She acknowledged on the stand that cell-signal records provide only a general vicinity, not an exact location, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Cowell’s phone ceased all recorded activity after 3:42 p.m., and has never been found.
The jury in the Hudson case asked to read a transcript of Skovran’s testimony during 2 1/2 days of deliberation. On Friday, jurors convicted Balfour on all charges — three counts of murder, plus one each of aggravated kidnapping, home invasion, residential burglary and possession of a stolen vehicle.
Skovran is one of almost 40 witnesses listed by the prosecution, not all of whom may take the stand. Other witnesses include forensic scientists from the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, records custodians for Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobile and an agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which analyzed Wilson’s computers for evidence in the case.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123