SAN FRANCISCO—The trial for the murder of Nia Wilson started on Wednesday, February 5, after several delays regarding the competence of the defendant and a fair trial from his peers. John Lee Cowell, 29, was charged with the murder of Wilson, 18, and the attempted murder of her sister, Letifah, 26, after an incident at MacArthur Bart station in July 2018.
The two women were attacked with a knife, both receiving lacerations to the neck. Letifah was able to recover from her injuries, but Nia bled out on the platform despite her sister attempting to put pressure on the wound. According to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, Cowell fled the scene, tossing the knife and pointing officers to the scene to evade suspicion.
Footage of the attack was revealed during the trial, where Nia’s mother, Alicia Grayson indicated she found the video “too devastating” as it was played in court.
Prior to the video, Cowell was forcibly removed from the courthouse for interrupting and disputing the timeline presented in the prosecution’s opening statement. Grayson speculates these interruptions were purposeful “because he didn’t want to see the video.”
During opening statements by Cowell’s defense attorney, Christina Moore, she admitted her client’s guilt. She affirmed he did kill Nia Wilson, but “not because he is evil,” as District Attorney Butch Ford mentioned in his opening statement.
Moore argued Cowell’s schizophrenic delusions for the attack. Cowell entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Moore questioned his ability to stand trial in 2018, which resulted in the suspension of the proceedings in December 2018, as Alameda County Superior Court (ACSC) Judge James Cramer said there was “substantial evidence” he was not mentally competent.
Judge Cramer reinstated the criminal proceedings in July 2019. Moore attempted to get Cowell’s trial moved from Alameda County claiming, “The media has poisoned the jury pool” of potential Bay Area natives who would have been exposed to the initial coverage of the crime.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Allan Hymner, who is in charge of presiding over the case, denied Moore’s second bid on January 31, 2020, which allowed the trial to move forward..