Trial to begin on Wednesday for BART stabbing suspect John Lee Cowell

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PHOTO BY MOPEADA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

By Jeff Shuttleworth, BAY CITY NEWS SERVICE
The trial of a transient man charged with murder for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland in 2018 will begin on Wednesday with opening statements by the attorneys in the case.
John Lee Cowell, 29, is charged with murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Wilson and her sister, 26-year-old Letifah Wilson, on the platform at the MacArthur station at 9:36 p.m. on July 22, 2018.
Cowell also is charged with a special circumstance allegation that he killed Wilson while lying in wait, a charge that would result in life in prison without parole or the death penalty if he’s convicted.
Cowell’s trial will begin on Wednesday because Alameda County Superior Court Judge Allan Hymer, who is presiding over the case, denied a second bid by Cowell’s attorney Christina Moore last Friday to move the case away from Alameda County because she doesn’t think he can get a fair trial locally.
Hymer denied Moore’s first change of venue motion on Jan. 14, saying he would try to ensure that a fair and impartial jury is selected for Cowell’s trial by the careful questioning of small groups of potential jurors instead of bringing in large panels.
Moore filed a second change of venue motion last week, saying that a high percentage of potential jurors in the case said they had been exposed to heavy news coverage about the case.
She also alleged that, “The media has poisoned the jury pool.”
Moore wrote, “Based on social science, we know that subjects exposed to pretrial publicity are significantly more likely to judge the defendant guilty compared to subjects exposed to less or no pretrial publicity.”
Moore said, “Venue should be changed because there is a reasonable likelihood that the accused (Cowell) will not receive a fair trial.”
But Hymer denied Moore’s motion for a second time and jury selection was completed on Tuesday.
The case against Cowell, who has a history of mental health problems, has 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.
One psychiatrist who had examined Cowell earlier in 2019 said he believed Cowell was incompetent to stand trial but another expert said he was unable to arrive at a conclusion about Cowell’s competency.
Moore voiced new concerns about Cowell’s competency in December but Cramer ruled on Jan. 15 that he’s still mentally competent to stand trial.