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Woman recorded her own murder, police say

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 13/05/2017 Brett Kelman
The home of Mimie Cowen, who was killed in Cathedral City last June © Brett Kelman, The Desert Sun The home of Mimie Cowen, who was killed in Cathedral City last June

Warning: Some content in this article is considered to be graphic or could be triggering.

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — It was almost midnight when Daniel Anes, a veteran Cathedral City police officer, got to the house on Heritage Court. 

No one answered the doorbell, so Anes peeked through the window, looking for signs of trouble. A vase and a flower pot shattered on the floor. Barking dogs ran amok inside.

Anes was alarmed. Just four hours ago, he had been at this same house to help the owner, Mimie Anita Cowen, with a problematic tenant. At that time, tensions had been high, but nothing was broken.

Anes called for backup, then three other police officers rushed to the Cathedral City cul-de-sac where Cowen lived. Together, they jumped a block wall into the backyard of the house.

They knew immediately — this was a murder scene.

Cowen, 65, was floating face down in her pool. Purple bruises covered her shoulders and half of her face, and there were cuts on her forehead, lip and ear. Handfuls of dirty-blonde hair had been torn from her head.

Two cops pulled Cowen out of the pool and began CPR while Anes slipped through a pair of broken French doors to search the house. The floor was covered with smashed glass, discarded flowers and clumps of long, human hair. A ceramic cat statue had been broken, then the front paw was jabbed through the door of a kitchen cabinet.

Police also found a digital audio recorder on the floor under the kitchen table. Someone had made a minute-long recording earlier that night.

“It was a recording of what I believe took place that night,” said Detective Heather Olsen on Friday, testifying during a preliminary hearing for Scott Pettigrew, a tenant who is accused of murdering Cowen last June. The hearing was the first time details of the killing have been made public.

Prosecutors also played the recording in court. A woman can be heard shouting over the sounds of an escalating scuffle. A second voice is unintelligible, but police say they are confident that voice belongs to Pettigrew.

“Stay away from me!” the woman yells in the recording. “You b*****d! You b*****d! You b*****d!”

“Get out of here! Get out of here! Get off me!”

The recording then abruptly ends.

On the night of the killing, police responded to Cowen's house at the request of her relatives, who had heard a loud argument while on the phone with her earlier that evening. After discovering Cowen's body in the pool, the cops found Pettigrew casually lying in his bedroom, completely naked, with scratches on his back and fingers.

He was arrested at the scene.

In court on Friday, Pettigrew sat silent, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and leg shackles. His attorney, Jake Devain, asked only a few questions while cross-examining police, mostly clarifying minor points of testimony. On multiple occasions, Devain focused his questioning on Cowen’s prior tenant, likely preparing to propose an alternative suspect if Pettigrew goes to trial at a later date.

Court documents have previously shown that Cowen attempted to have Pettigrew evicted, out of concerns for her safety. 

Five days before her death, Cowen filed court paperwork asking a county judge to evict Pettigrew, who she said was on an escalating path of alarming behavior.

Cowen said Pettigrew had refused to pay rent, stolen all of her silverware, poured water on her computer and cut the batteries out of her phones. Pettigrew also kept two dogs in his bedroom, but never let them out, so the animals defecated in the house daily. If Cowen complained, Pettigrew threatened her.

“I am being terrorized daily in my own home," Cowen said. "Escalating each day. I need help. I need a restraining order.”

In response, Superior Court Judge James Cox gave Cowen an eviction, but not the one she needed. He ordered Pettigrew's dogs out of the house, but said Pettigrew could stay as long as he remained 5 yards away from Cowen. Cox told Cowen and Pettigrew to come to a court hearing in two weeks where they could work out a permanent solution.

Four days later, Cowen was dead. Pettigrew was in jail. The court hearing came too late.

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