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Parolee will stand trial in deadly Oakland subway stabbing, judge rules

John Lee Cowell
John Lee Cowell will face trial in the stabbing death of Nia Wilson, 18, in July 2018.
(Alameda County Sheriff’s Office)

A judge has ruled that a 29-year-old parolee with a history of mental illness is mentally fit to stand trial in the slaying of a woman on an Oakland subway platform.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge James Cramer said Tuesday that John Lee Cowell will face trial starting in January in the stabbing death of Nia Wilson, 18, in July 2018, KPIX-TV reported.

Cowell has been charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the unprovoked attack on Wilson and her sister, Letifah, 26, who was wounded.

The trial had been in legal limbo as authorities sought to determine Cowell’s mental competence.

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At a hearing Monday, Cramer said Cowell was not cooperating with doctors appointed last month to evaluate him. The judge said he understood that Cowell has a history of mental illness, but doctors who had previously examined him felt he was “malingering” to avoid trial.

Wilson’s death was one of several violent or fatal attacks on Bay Area Rapid Transit lines that connect San Francisco to Berkeley, Oakland and other cities.

BART has announced new safety measures and installed thousands of security cameras.

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Prosecutors have said they will seek a life sentence against Cowell. They are investigating whether Cowell, who is white, was motivated by racial hate when he killed Wilson, who was black.


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