Man obsessed with Hannibal Lecter goes to trial after stabbing 17-year-old beauty school student to death
Jury selection is expected to begin on Monday in the murder trial of a Washington beauty school student who is accused of strangling and stabbing to death his 17-year-old classmate. Prosecutors said Christopher Scott Wilson, 31, had a fascination with death and corpses when he killed high school senior Mackenzie Cowell in February of 2010, comparing him to a serial-killing character from the television shows Dexter. Wilson also has an arm tattoo of Hannibal Lecter, the fictional serial killer from Oscar-winning movie Silence of the Lambs. Wilson was ultimately charged with first-degree murder in a case that shocked the small agricultural city of Wenatchee, the self-described ‘Apple Capital of the World’. The 31-year-old and his alleged victim could hardly be more different. Unlike her grim older classmate, Cowell was a popular girl and a member of her school dance team known as the Apple-Ettes. 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,’ Mr Cowell said. ‘The evidence tells me the chances are slim it wasn’t him. Wilson reportedly rejected a ten-year plea deal after the defense won all of the major pre-trial motions. 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. Browne said there are some cases where he encourages clients to plead guilty, even if they are 100 per cent innocent, because the deal is too good to turn down. It’s a significant risk for Chris, but he’s maintaining his innocence, and I admire that in him,’ Browne said. On February 9, Cowell left the Academy of Hair Design at around 3pm, telling her friends that she would be back in 15 minutes. According to court documents, Cowell was last seen driving toward Wilson’s home about two blocks away from the school. Police later found her abandoned vehicle five miles away on a rural road. Her purse was still in the car, but her keys and cell phone were missing. Four days later, police found her body 20 miles away on the edge of the Columbia River. The teenager had been struck in the head, strangled and stabbed to death. In addition to the fatal wounds, the coroner also determined that someone had tried to amputate one of the girl’s 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, where police discovered traces of blood. 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. He was charged with the murder in October of 2010. According to court documents cited by KirovTV, several people contacted police with concerns about Wilson after Cowell disappeared.
One person wrote a letter to police claiming Wilson was obsessed with corpses and serial killers. He also claimed that the 31-year-old tried to choke his female friend, and then acted as if nothing happened. Another acquaintance claimed that 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 arm tattoo – at trial. Due to the media attention surrounding this case, Wilson’s defense team has expressed concerns that it will be difficult to find a pool of potential jurors that have not been tainted by the press coverage over the past two years. Browne said he has filed a motion for change of venue, but will wait to see if an unbiased jury can be seated. Once the jury selection gets under way, Browne plans to present several motions, including a request to allow testimony from a police informant who claimed two other men admitted to murdering Cowell. He will also seek to bring the two men to the stand in person, according to the Wenatchee World. The female informant named Samuel S. Cuevas and Emmanuel ‘Buddha’ Cerros Sanchez in Spring 2010, leading police to eavesdrop on the two men. However, police eventually determined that the two had strong alibis for the time of the murder. Browne also seeks to suppress photos and a video police believe show the interior of Wilson’s apartment, where Cowell is thought to have died. The images and videos involve Wilson’s friend Tessa Schuyleman, who has been accused of misleading police in the Cowell case, but never charged with any crime. Police said some of the photos show Schuyleman ‘posing as a dead person’ on the floor of Wilson’s apartment next to a stain. Investigators said the stain is Cowell’s blood, matched directly to her DNA. Wilson, however, insisted that the stain in the video was spilled water from a marijuana bong, according to defense documents. If convicted, standard sentencing calls for Wilson to serve 20 to 26 years in prison, but the judge could impose a tougher sentence.