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California

Suspect in fatal stabbing of teen at BART station mentally fit for trial, judge rules

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John Cowell will enter a plea Aug. 2 after a judge found he was mentally competent to stand trial.
(Alameda County Sheriff’s Office)

Criminal proceedings for a man accused of stabbing an 18-year-old woman to death at an Oakland train station have been reinstated after a doctor found him competent to stand trial months after proceedings were suspended, authorities said.

John Lee Cowell, a 28-year-old parolee, was accused in July 2018 of stabbing Nia Wilson and her 26-year-old sister in the neck at the MacArthur Bay Area Rapid Transit Station in Oakland in what police say was a random attack.

BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas said Cowell came up behind Wilson and stabbed her twice in rapid succession before doing the same to her sister in what Rojas called a “prison-yard type of attack.” He was arrested the next day.

But while in custody, Cowell began displaying behavior that indicated he may have been unable to understand the proceedings against him, according to his attorney, Christina Marie Moore.

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“I don’t believe he’s able to rationally assist me in his defense, which is the legal standard,” Moore said in December. “He’s incredibly paranoid and delusional right now. I’ve been unable to redirect him.”

Two court-appointed psychiatrists were assigned to evaluate Rojas’ mental state. After a hearing that concluded Wednesday morning, a judge found he was mentally stable and could stand trial, according to the Alameda County district attorney’s office.

He will appear in court Aug. 2 to enter his plea, said Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for the D.A.’s office.


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