OAKLAND (CBS SF) — In a series of bizarre ramblings from the witness stand, John Lee Cowell, who is accused of stabbing to death Nia Wilson on the MacArthur BART station platform, told jurors he hears voices from alien technology implanted in his ear.
Cowell began his much anticipated testimony Tuesday morning and it immediately took an odd turn. Cowell’s attorney, Christina Moore, admitted to jurors in her opening statement that Cowell randomly stabbed Nia Wilson and her sister, Letifah, on the BART platform on July 22, 2018.
But she also claimed “he is genuinely, severely and tragically impaired” and not mentally competent for trial. A court-appointed psychologist disagrees.
With Nia Wilson’s two sisters and family in the courtroom, Cowell sparred with his attorney during her questioning Tuesday.
Cowell testified that he heard voices in his head that came from alien technology implanted in his ear with aliens using a radio to communicate with him.
He also referred to people wearing “fake skin” and “skin suits,” insisting that the Wilson sisters were aliens that were threatening him. Cowell also said the sisters had kidnapped his grandmother and were threatening to hurt her.
Cowell said that the sisters were standing over him on the BART train and staring him down and that attacking them was the only way to save his grandmother.
He testified he had schizophrenia, an antisocial personality disorder and several drug problems. He additionally gave conflicting information to his own lawyer during his testimony regarding the medications he may or may not be taking and his prior hospitalization.
Members of the Wilson family did not know what to make of Cowell’s outlandish claims.
“I don’t know what he is talking about and what ‘Alien Nation’ planet he got that idea from. It’s absurd” said family member Denise Black. “We are not aliens! If I’m an alien, you’re one too!”
When the prosecution began questioning Cowell, the attorney immediately questioned his truthfulness, saying Cowell used his mental illness diagnosis as a way to get places to sleep at night. The attorney also inferred that Cowell had made no references to aliens or fake skin to doctors when discussing his prior history of mental illness.
The bizarre display came in the fourth day of the trial. Cowell was relatively polite and subdued until the last hour of court Tuesday afternoon. At one point, the judge stopped everything and told the defendant to count to 10 to calm things down.
The defendant threw a temper tantrum of sorts, calling the prosecutor rude and disrespectful. The prosecution then accused Cowell of hoping his behavior would make the jury think he was crazy, saying the defendant was “putting on a show.”
“It’s very difficult. Especially for the girls and hearing him not owning up to what he does,” said Black.
Cowell, who had to be forcibly removed from the courtroom last week because of an outburst, was not in court Monday.
The 29-year-old is charged with murder and attempted murder for allegedly randomly stabbing Nia Wilson and her sister, 26-year-old Letifah Wilson as they were at the station on the way home from a family gathering.
Emotions have been high inside the courtroom from the very start of the trial last Wednesday when the prosecutor showed a graphic surveillance video of the murder during opening statements. As Wilson family members sobbed, the video showed a man police identified as Cowell come up behind the victims and stab them in the back of the neck.
Tears flowed again on Thursday when former BART police Officer Andres Rocha described how he attempted CPR on Nia Wilson shortly after the sisters were stabbed.
“I attempted to keep her heart beating,” he told the court.
Monday, emotions reached new heights as Nia Wilson’s two sisters described what happened as they arrived at the BART station while on the way home to Oakland from a family get-together in Martinez.
“I knew something was wrong,” Tashiya Wilson testified as she broke down in sobs according to the East Bay Times, “I was about to sit down…I just seen blood on her (Nia’s) hands.”
Tashiya testified seeing Nia stumble. She saw blood and then heard her scream out “Letifah”.
“I was in shock. I was trying to figure out what happened,” Tayisha said according to the newspaper account.
Cowell is charged with a special circumstance allegation in the case that he killed Wilson while lying in wait, a charge that would result in him being sentenced to life in prison without parole if he’s convicted. Prosecutors aren’t seeking the death penalty.
There is a court holiday tomorrow. The trial resumes Thursday.
Anne Makovec and Juliette Goodrich contributed to this report.