WENATCHEE — CBS News’ true-crime program “48 Hours” airs its long-in-the-making feature on the 2010 homicide of Mackenzie Cowell on Saturday, 10 p.m. local time.
Cowell, a 17-year-old Wenatchee High School student, disappeared from downtown Wenatchee Feb. 9 of that year and was found dead four days later. Her killing sparked an eight-month hunt by a multi-agency team of police.
Correspondent Peter Van Sant and multiple producers followed the case, from the arrest of Christopher Scott Wilson in October 2010 through his guilty plea to first-degree manslaughter, robbery and assault in May 2012.
Aside from interviews with local police, family members of Cowell and Wilson, former Chelan County Prosecutor Gary Riesen and defense lawyer John Henry Browne, the producers also interviewed Wilson by phone from prison at Clallam Bay Corrections Center. “48 Hours’” website lists the episode title as “Secrets of the River.”
The program airs on Seattle’s KIRO and Spokane’s KREM affiliates.
Mackenzie Cowell was last seen on a parking lot surveillance video driving away from the Academy of Hair Design in downtown Wenatchee. Police believed she went to the apartment of fellow academy student Wilson, now 32, where he murdered Cowell by strangling her, stabbing her in the neck and bludgeoning her in the head. The killing, police claim, left a four-inch bloodstain in Wilson’s carpet that would later prove crucial to the case.
Cowell’s car, a red 1997 Pontiac Grand Am, was found abandoned that night near the end of Pitcher Canyon Road outside Wenatchee. About 2 p.m. Feb. 13, Cowell’s body was discovered on Crescent Bar, partially in the water. In addition to her fatal injuries, someone had tried to amputate one of her arms, and left the knife at the scene.
Police found a 5-foot length of duct tape nearby. Genetic material from at least two males was collected from the tape, and material from at least three males from the knife handle.
The investigation, carried out by multiple local, state and federal agencies under the umbrella of the Mackenzie Cowell Task Force, went on for months. Multiple leads were checked and discarded, including an informant’s claim that two men with prior drug and gang affiliations had admitted to the crime.
In August, a tipster suggested police investigate Wilson. He was questioned, and voluntarily gave a DNA sample swabbed from the inside of his mouth. Washington State Police Crime Lab technicians said this sample matched the DNA profile — found in one out of 1,047 people in the United States — of genetic material found on the duct tape near Cowell’s body.
Wilson was arrested Oct. 6, 2010, and charged with Cowell’s murder. He maintained his innocence, turning down at least one plea agreement that might have yielded 6 1/2 years for manslaughter. Ultimately, he entered a plea May 23 that resulted in a 14-year sentence, recommended by his attorney after many prospective jurors said they believed Wilson was guilty of the crime.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123