SAN FRANCISCO—The trial for the murder of Nia Wilson continued on Tuesday, February 11, as the defendant, John Lee Cowell, 29, took the stand to discuss his mental state.
He divulged the stabbing on July 22, 2018, of Nia and her sister Letifah, who received severe injuries, but survived the attack, to result from his belief that the sisters would “not give [his] grandmother back.” Cowell described his delusions on the BART train as he saw Nia, Letifah, and their sister Tashiya sitting nearby.
He spoke how the “three black females working together…were threatening to assault my grandmother. They were standing over me and they would not walk away from me.” Even though BART footage shows the group sitting separately with no reference to Cowell, he argued, “It’s not illegal to…rescue a family member. I stabbed the females because they would not give my grandmother back.”
Footage shows Cowell removing a knife from his bag and hiding it under his clothes during the ride.
He remarked back in 2018 that he heard voices that day, but could no longer recall what they were saying. Cowell added that aliens implanted technology in his ear and put “fake skin” on people—it is unclear how this affected his view of the sisters whom he previously referred to as “gangsters” and “aliens.”
Cowell has a history of mental illness, after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and anti-personality disorder when he was 18. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity after his defense attorney, Christina Moore, already established he admitted to committing the crime.
As prosecutor Butch Ford cross-examined Cowell, he became upset with his “rudeness” and refused to cooperate. Ford went on to remark that Cowell’s behavior is purposeful, intended to make the jury believe in his insanity plea.
Cowell remained combative with Ford as the prosecutor brought up previous statements he made in jail regarding not taking his medication to sway jurors in his favor. Ford showed the defendant records after he claimed he had forgotten making the statement.
Amy Larson, a reporter for KRON4 posted on Twitter Cowell’s gaps in memory. “John Lee Cowell has said ‘I don’t remember’ at least 50 times while testifying in his own defense” she reported Tuesday. “Cowell remembered somethings this morning that he now doesn’t remember this afternoon, according to Cowell.”
Cowell took the stand the day after Letifah and Tashiya The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday, February 13.