OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — Attorneys for John Cowell, the man who was convicted of murdering Nia Wilson and sentenced to serve life in prison without possibility of parole, are appealing an Alameda County judge and jury’s verdicts.
A notice of appeal was recently filed on Cowell’s behalf in the 1st District Court of Appeal. First District Appellate Project executive director Jonathan Soglin said for a trial as complex and lengthy as the Cowell murder trial, the appeals process will take “months and months.” The appeal will not be presented to a panel of appellate judges until possibly late 2021, Soglin said.
The murder trial’s lead prosecutor was Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Butch Ford. The presiding judge was Allan Hymer, who spent half his career working in the Public Defender’s Office.
Ford told KRON4 on Friday, “The appeal process is just the next step in Mr. Cowell’s attempt to avoid responsibility.”
“Mr. Cowell was afforded every protection of the law as a criminal defendant. Within that context, the jury convicted him of all charges. Judge Hymer, with all of his experience as a former public defender and current jurist, decided that any evidence of Mr. Cowell’s insanity was so legally deficient to direct the verdict to one of sanity. I am grateful that both of those decisions were made according to the law,” Ford said.
The trial had two phases and two verdicts. In the guilt phase, a jury unanimously agreed that Cowell was guilty of murdering Nia Wilson and attempting to kill her sister, Letifah Wilson, on a BART train platform. BART surveillance video recorded the Wilson sisters riding on the same train as Cowell for 26 minutes on July 22, 2018. They never interacted with each other. When the train reached MacArthur station, video showed Cowell following the sisters before he lunged with the knife at Nia Wilson, slashing her throat.
Cowell, 29, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He expressed optimism during jail phone calls with his family that he would be found not guilty by reason of insanity and would be able to return home one day.
Cowell admitted to stabbing the Wilson sisters, claiming he believed they were “aliens” and “gang members” who kidnapped his grandmother. His defense attorney, Christina Moore, said Cowell did not know right from wrong because he was suffering a psychotic break from reality due to schizophrenia.
But in the sanity phase, Judge Hymer declared that Cowell was sane when he attacked the Wilson sisters.
At his sentencing hearing in July, Cowell declined to make a statement to the victims. The only time he spoke during the hearing was when he raised his hand and asked about the appeals process.
Ford said, “I think it’s illustrative of his mindset. He raised his hand. And he asked (if) his attorney was going to be able to file his appeal within a 60-day time limit.”
Cowell is still currently an inmate in the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County. He has not been transferred yet to a state prison because the COVID-19 virus caused inmates transfers to be suspended.