OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A trial is beginning for a parolee charged with stabbing an 18-year-old woman to death on a California subway platform and wounding her sister, an attack that drew national attention.
Opening statements are expected to begin Wednesday in the trial against John Lee Cowell, 29, a transient with a history of violence accused of the July 2018 slaying of Nia Wilson and the attempted murder of her 26-year-old sister, Letifah Wilson.
Wilson’s death was one of several violent or fatal attacks on a platform for Bay Area Rapid Transit, the train system that connects San Francisco to the nearby cities of Berkeley and Oakland. BART officials have since announced a number of measures intended to improve safety.
The trial was delayed as authorities sought to determine Cowell’s mental competence through a series of psychiatric evaluations. Defense attorney Christina Moore has said he has severe delusions and paranoia.
Cowell was released from a maximum security facility for mentally ill convicts less than three months before he’s accused of attacking Wilson and her sister while they changed trains on a BART platform. Wilson’s sister recovered.
An Alameda County Superior Court judge in December ruled Cowell was fit to stand trial. The judge said Cowell was not cooperating with doctors appointed to evaluate him, noting that Cowell has a history of mental illness but doctors who had previously examined him felt he was “malingering” to avoid trial.
Prosecutors have said they will seek a life sentence against Cowell and are investigating if he was motivated by racial hate when he killed Wilson. The women are black, and he is white.
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