John Lee Cowell, 27, is shown in this image from an officer's body camera during a previous encounter with police.

BART

Prosecutors Won't Seek Death Penalty Against Man Charged With Stabbing Teen On BART

Jeffrey Schaub
August 19, 2019 - 1:56 pm
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The man accused of killing 18-year old Nia Wilson at an Oakland BART station and injuring her sister just over one year ago is expected to face a jury trial early next year.

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Butch Ford said Thursday that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty against John Lee Cowell, 28. He was described by his family as homeless and mentally unstable, for allegedly slashing Nia Wilson's throat and repeatedly stabbing her sister, who survived the attack. 

The fatal encounter happened on a platform on BART’s MacArthur station in July 2018. Cowell is white and the victims are black, which immediately sparked an outcry that his motivations were spurred by race. Investigators haven't said with certainty if race was a factor. 

Initially, Cowell was found unfit to stand trial, but after three psychological evaluations, the judge declared that the case will move forward in criminal court. 

Outside the courtroom, Wilson’s father, Ansar El Muhammad, said he’s relieved. 

“I would like to see this trial move forward, so we can have some closure,” he said. 

Nia Wilson’s older sister, Tomisha Wilson, also spoke after the hearing. 

“I think about my baby sister all of the time,” she said. “Of course, we have people who will uplift our spirits, people who encourage us, pray for us, so on and so forth. But when reality hits, I think about my sister not being here at all.”

Cowell has still not entered a plea, which has now been put off until an October hearing.