DUBLIN, Calif. (KRON) — Nia Wilson’s accused killer is refusing to attend his own trial.
On Day 2 of the murder trial, defense attorney Christina Moore sat alone on her side of the counsel table. The defendant, John Lee Cowell, remained in a separate room in the Oakland courthouse. Deputies tasked with guarding him tried to coax Cowell to walk downstairs to the courtroom, but he declined.
The 29-year-old man suffers from schizophrenia, and he has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Cowell stabbed Wilson, 18, and her sister in the summer of 2018 while the sisters were trying to return home on BART from a family gathering. Cowell had never met the women. Prosecutor Butch Ford said surveillance cameras recorded Cowell watching and following the sisters from Concord to Oakland before he lunged at Wilson from behind and slit her throat.
Cowell was equally unpredictable on Day 1 of the trial. He was quiet for about 30 minutes as the judge gave instructions to the jury. and the gallery was filled with the victim’s supporters, news reporters and court employees. He remained composed as Ford began opening statements by declaring him as “evil.”
“Evil exists in this world and cause terrible things to happen to innocent people. All of those things came together at the MacArthur BART station. Evil in this case has a name, and its name is John Lee Cowell,” Ford said.
Cowell showed his first signs of agitation when Ford played BART surveillance video for the jury. The video showed Cowell arriving at the Concord BART station just before Wilson and two of her sisters arrived. Cowell tried to use that evidence to say it showed he wasn’t following the Wilson sisters. Judge Allan Hymer warned Cowell to remain silent, but he continued objecting and deputies escorted him out of the room.
Cowell has resided in an Alameda County jail in Dublin since his arrest. KRON4 spoke with Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly to find out if Cowell’s courtroom behavior matches the behavior he has shown as a jail inmate.
Kelly said there have been no major incidents caused by Cowell during his time behind bars.
“He really has not been problematic for us. He seems to go along with the program,” Kelly said.
Cowell is held in an isolated cell. “Obviously this is a very high profile case and the crimes he’s accused of are not very popular among the inmates here, so we have to take special precautions with him to protect him from the other prisoners in our jail. There is a target on him to harm him,” Kelly said.
Cowell has not been physically combative with deputies while being escorted from his jail cell in Dublin to the courthouse in Oakland.
“He’s been leaving the jail facility and going to the court(house), he just hasn’t been going into the courtroom. We and the attorneys have tried to get him to go into court. We’re not going to force him into the room unless we are ordered to do so. We are playing it day-by-day,” Kelly said.
The trial will resume on Monday with more witnesses being called on by prosecutors to testify.