OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — It’s the most high profile murder case in recent Alameda County history. John Cowell, the accused BART killer, will hear prosecutors present their opening statements Wednesday morning.
He is accused of stabbing Nia Wilson to death while she was standing on a BART platform with her sisters in Oakland. Wilson was 18. A motive has never been released by investigators, but one could finally be revealed as opening statements are delivered.
Wilson was stabbed to death on July 22, 2018 at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland. Her sister was also stabbed in the neck and survived. The shocking incident raised many fears that public transportation was not safe to ride.
Wilson’s family told KRON4 that her death was a hate crime committed by a white man who targeted young black women. Hundreds of Oakland residents marched in the streets in outrage, but ultimately, Cowell was never charged with a hate crime.
Cowell’s parents told KRON4 that their son was driven by mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, and had spent time in state mental institutions.
At first, it looked like a trial was not going to happen at all. In late 2018 Cowell was ruled as incompetent to stand trial. But additional psychologists who conducted more evaluations of Cowell’s mental state came to the opposite conclusion, and a judge reversed the decision.
The trial’s start date was expedited in recent months when Cowell refused to waive his right to a speedy trial, and when a judge denied the defense team’s request to move the trial to a different county.
Cowell pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He is charged with murder and attempted murder, with a special circumstance of lying in wait. If convicted, he faces life in prison. The District Attorney’s Office is not pursing the death penalty.
The trial will happen in two phases. First, a jury will hear evidence and decide on Cowell’s guilt — whether he committed the charges filed against him. In the second phase, the same jury will deliver a verdict over Cowell’s sanity.
KRON Digital Reporter Amy Larson will be in the courtroom covering the trial daily. You can find the latest on the trial here