John Lee Cowell, a man with a history of violence and mental illness, has been found guilty of the random stabbing death of 18-year-old Nia Wilson on a commuter train platform in July 2018.
Wilson’s murder was said to have had racial undertones prompting numerous rallies and vigils throughout the San Francisco Bay area. On Tuesday (March 10) an Alameda county jury announced that it had found Cowell, 29, guilty of murdering Wilson at the MacArthur Bart station in Oakland while she was returning home from a family gathering with her two sisters.
Cowell was also found guilty of attempted murder in the stabbing of Wilson’s sister who survived her injuries. The verdict was reached just hours after deliberations began.
A second trial will take place to determine Cowell’s sanity. If found insane, he will be sent to a psychiatric hospital likely for the remainder of his life.
The stabbing death of Nia Wilson stunned bystanders and caused train officials to implement measures intended to improve safety. Family and friends say the women were targeted because they are Black, but prosecutors declined to charge Cowell with a hate crime.
Cowell admitted at trial that he had been punched in the face by a Black woman about a week prior to the train stabbing and the prosecutor questioned him about trying to pick a fight with yet another Black woman after the stabbing.
Cowell followed the Wilson sisters from the platform onto their train for the 30-minute ride to another station where they had to transfer to another train. He stabbed them as they were about to board the next train.
Surveillance video shows Cowell trailing the women and removing a knife hidden in his pants in the attack that killed Nia Wilson and wounded her sister, Letifah Wilson.
Cowell pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity while his attorney Christina Moore argued that he stabbed the sisters in a “rash act” stemming from his mental illness.
Cowell was thrown out of court twice for disruptive behavior. He testified that he thought the sisters were aliens and part of a gang who had kidnapped his grandmother.
The trial was delayed while authorities determined Cowell’s mental competence through a series of psychiatric evaluations. In December, a judge ruled Cowell was indeed fit to stand trial after noting he had refused to cooperate with doctors trying to evaluate him.
[via BET News]