OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Jurors reached a guilty verdict Tuesday in the case against John Lee Cowell, who was accused of fatally stabbing Nia Wilson on the platform of the MacArthur BART station in Oakland on July 22, 2018.
The verdict was read shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday. The Alameda County District Attorney confirmed the guilty verdict to KPIX 5.
The jury came to a quick decision, finding Cowell guilty on charges of murder and attempted murder after only a couple hours of deliberation. The second charge was for the stabbing attack by Cowell on Letifah Wilson, Nia’s sister, who survived.
Depending on the outcome of the trial, Cowell either faces life in prison or he would serve a his sentence at a state mental hospital.
During closing arguments Monday, the prosecutor and defense attorney clashed on furiously over the defendant’s mental state.
But Alameda County prosecutor Butch Ford and defense lawyer Christina Moore agreed on two important things: that Cowell was in fact the person who attacked Wilson and her sister Letifah at the MacArthur station at about 9:35 p.m. on July 22, 2018, and that the key issue in his trial was his state of mind at the time.
Ford told jurors that Cowell, a 29-year-old transient man, should be convicted of first-degree murder and the special circumstance of lying in wait because he believes Cowell knew what he was doing at the time and premeditated the attack.
But Moore said Cowell has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and said his mind “was completely divorced from reality” at the time.
Tensions ran high throughout the emotionally charged trial. On Monday, at one point Moore asked jurors if they could believe Ford’s allegation that she was a co-conspirator with Cowell to magnify his mental illness. Some members of the gallery, which was packed with Wilson’s family members and friends, called out “yes.”
Moore asked Alameda County Superior Court Judge Allan Hymer to admonish the audience and turned to the spectators and said, “This isn’t about you.”
On the first day of the trial, Cowell was removed from the courtroom following an outburst during the prosecution’s opening remarks. The judge first admonished Cowell for speaking out to defend himself, telling Cowell to keep quiet and ultimately having Cowell removed when he continued.
When Cowell took the witness stand, he told jurors he hears voices from alien technology implanted in his ear in a series of bizarre ramblings.
Cowell sparred with his attorney during her questioning, testifying 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.
The case against Cowell, who has a history of mental health problems, moved slowly because Moore has raised questions about his mental competency to stand trial.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge James Cramer suspended the criminal proceedings against Cowell on Dec. 27, 2018, saying there was “substantial evidence” that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial.
But at a hearing last July 17, Cramer reinstated the criminal proceedings against Cowell, based in part on a report by psychiatrist Jason Roof of the University of California at Davis that found Cowell was competent to stand trial.
On Wednesday, a separate sanity phase of the trail will begin. Cowell pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.