Cowan's sordid past laid bare
Brett Cowan is unmasked as a serial child sex offender who fathered three children of his own before being found guilty of the murder of Daniel Morcombe.PT1M41S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-34qpr 620 349 March 14, 2014
Daniel Morcombe's killer Brett Peter Cowan was finally found guilty when the longest-running police investigation in Queensland's history came to a dramatic end on Thursday.
Fairfax Media can now reveal Daniel was not Cowan's first victim.
Ten years before taking Daniel from a Sunshine Coast bus stop, Cowan lured a six-year-old boy into the bush in the Northern Territory.
The man convicted of Daniel Morcombe's murder, Brett Peter Cowan. Photo: Supplied
Cowan viciously raped the little boy on a rusted car wreck, leaving him with severe head injuries, a collapsed and punctured lung, a deep cut at the base of his scrotum, a bloodied nose and scratch marks over his torso.
The boy was found wandering naked, dazed and distressed near a petrol station on the Stuart Highway and taken to the Royal Darwin Hospital where he was placed in intensive care.
Cowan, then aged 24, initially denied having any involvement in the attack, but confessed when questioned a second time by police.
Brett Peter Cowan listens to evidence in Brisbane's Supreme Court in 2014. Photo: Nine News
He told police he needed help and requested to be imprisoned in the Moreton Correctional Centre in Queensland, where he could participate in a sexual offenders treatment program.
Cowan was already a repeat offender by this stage. In September 1989, Cowan took a seven-year-old boy into a public toilet in Brisbane, where he digitally and orally raped the child.
Cowan was sentenced to seven years' jail for his assault on the boy in the Northern Territory, but his non-parole period was set at no more than three years and a half years.
Daniel Morcombe's killer Brett Peter Cowan appears in court after his 2011 arrest. Photo: Network 10
The information that drew detectives to Cowan's front door
Five years after Cowan's release, 13-year-old Daniel James Morcombe would disappear from a bus stop on Nambour Connection Road at Woombye on the Sunshine Coast.
It was Cowan's sordid criminal history that drew detectives, canvassing known child sex offenders in the area, to his front door just two weeks after Daniel vanished.
He was arrested and charged with Daniel's murder after a protracted undercover police operation on August 13, 2011.
However, his Supreme Court trial in Brisbane would not hear of Cowan's prior convictions, or the concerns authorities held about his propensity to re-offend.
Jury hears details of Daniel Morcombe's final moments
The court heard Daniel's death was quick, but callous.
Within an hour of being lured from the bus stop under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass on the afternoon of Sunday December 7, 2003 Daniel was dead and his body dumped in an overgrown, old sand mining site less than 40 kilometres away.
His disappearance triggered the largest police investigation in Queensland's history. More than 100 police officers interviewed 10,000 people throughout Australia, 502 names were added to a persons of interest list and about 20,000 job logs, each representing a piece of evidence or information relating to the case, were created.
Reducing the suspect list
By early 2011, police had whittled their suspect list down to 33 people. Many had a background of child sex crimes, many had served time in jail, and many were heavy drug users.
Cowan was seventh on the list, dubbed P7.
He was summonsed to front the coronial inquest into Daniel's disappearance in April 2011 and travelled from his home in Perth to Brisbane.
Sitting stony-faced in the dock, he denied having any involvement in the crime. However, he admitted smoking marijuana, "three cones at 7am", before travelling to the coroner's court.
"It doesn't take over. I enjoy smoking," Cowan said.
Daniel Morcombe's parents take the stand
Daniel's parents, Bruce and Denise Morcombe, were the first witnesses to take the stand at the trial, which began on February 10.
They recalled their initial frantic search for Daniel, the anguish etched on their faces as if it had happened only the day before.
Members of the jury sat forward in their seats, giving their upmost attention to the grieving parents, as they both identified pieces of Daniel's clothing: his shoes, his pants and his belt.
Their heads turned towards the couple again the following day, when a photograph of the demountable house, where Cowan killed Daniel was presented to the court.
No family or friends of Cowan were present in the public gallery.
The search for remains
Photographs of the crime scene were then tendered one by one, as State Emergency Service volunteers and police officers recounted how they came to find shoes, pieces of clothing and bones in the bushland.
The first of 17 bones belonging to Daniel was discovered on August 20, 2011.
When photographs of the bones were displayed to the court, Mrs Morcombe quietly left the room.
Passengers saw schoolboy
The first of several witnesses, who saw Daniel waiting for the bus under the overpass, were called to give evidence on the fifth day of the trial.
They recalled seeing a little boy wearing a red T-shirt and dark pants, playing with a stick and kicking his feet in the dirt.
Bus passengers Abby North, siblings Terry and Fiona Theuerkauf and Katherine Bird and her partner Matthew Finlayson also remembered seeing a "guant man" shadowing the boy.
The sting to catch a killer
Cowan became the subject of an elaborate and sophisticated undercover police operation upon leaving the coronial inquest in 2011.
West Australian covert officers posing as members of a national criminal gang introduced Cowan to a world of high crime, involving blood diamonds, prostitutes and guns. It was all a ruse designed to elicit his confession.
On the 11th day of the trial, with covert operative 483 in the witness box, the jury watched the video recording of Cowan's first confession to Daniel's abduction and murder.
Confessing to 'Mr Big'
Cowan sat with his hands firmly pressed against his seat in the dock as the tape rolled, while the members of the jury sat transfixed, watching the screen.
Daniel's parents Bruce and Denise were seated in the public gallery, not once turning to look in the direction of their son's killer.
The court heard Cowan had been taken to the Swan River Room of Perth's luxury Hyatt Hotel, where he was met by the gang's "Mr Big" named Arnold, who was in fact covert operative 483.
Arnold told Cowan his future in the gang was in jeopardy, because he had learned that the new recruit was the main suspect in the abduction and murder of Daniel.
Arnold promised Cowan he could clean up his mess, but only if he came clean.
"I can't sort out what I don't know," Arnold said.
Cowan replied: "Yeah OK ... yeah I did it ... I never got to molest him or anything like that. He panicked and I panicked and grabbed him around the throat and before I knew it he was dead."
Schoolboy's body dumped
He dumped Daniel's body over an embankment at the old sand mining site adjacent to the farm and dragged it towards Coochin Creek, where he left it covered with leaves and branches.
He threw the teenager's t-shirt, pants and underwear in the creek, before returning home, stopping by his drug dealer's house to buy marijuana on the way.
Cowan returned to Queensland, on Arnold's instruction, to ensure no incriminating evidence was left at the crime scene.
'That's where it happened'
He led two undercover officers named "Paul" and "Ian" to the macadamia farm, the old sanding mining site and the bridge from where he claimed to have thrown his clothes.
"That's where it happened," he said.
It would become the decision factor in the Crown case against him.
"So how, you might wonder, did the defendant get the right sand mining site? There are quite a few of them around the Sunshine Coast," Crown prosecutor Michael Byrne, QC, told the jury.
"And yet, he not only got the right sand mining site, he got the right bridge ...
"He could have only have known that from his personal involvement in the events, because he killed Daniel, he dumped his body, he threw away his clothing."
Why the trial could have been aborted - twice
The trial was almost aborted on two occasions after Cowan's defence counsel made two applications for mistrial.
The first came after News Corp's The Courier-Mail published a photograph of Cowan on its front page on February 21 with the headline "Daniel's killer". The headline, the defence claimed, prejudiced its client.
Justice Roslyn Atkinson dismissed the application, but reminded the jury to ignore any mention of the case in the media.
"You are the sole judges of the facts," she said.
The second application for mistrial from Cowan's defence team came after the jury's visit to the Kiel Mountain Road overpass, where a memorial for Daniel stands.
A note left at the memorial told the jurors no one could rest until "he" was convicted.
Again, Justice Atkinson dismissed the application, reminding the jury it should base its verdict only on the facts presented in court.
Defence forms basis for its appeal
Fairfax Media understands the two mistrial applications will form the basis of Cowan's appeal.
It is understood Cowan will also appeal his conviction on the grounds that he was wrongly coerced into a false confession by means of the undercover police operation.
The pending appeal will no doubt create lingering unease for the Morcombe family.
Their quest for justice has been a long and arduous.