Public defender alleges John Lee Cowell may be incompetent to stand trial
The family of Nia Wilson, who was slain at the MacArthur BART last July, was disappointed with their day in court as her alleged killer, John Lee Cowell, may be determined unfit for trial.
At the hearing on December 27, Judge James Cramer suspended criminal proceedings until Cowell could be examined by mental health professionals and scheduled the next hearing for Feb. 13, 2019.
The day began with supporters pouring into the courtroom for Cowell’s arraignment at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse. A wooden door manned by a sheriff’s deputy that allowed court workers in and out, revealed Cowell, 27, in chains and an orange jumpsuit looking at the crowd through a glass panel behind it.
Arriving family and friends reassured each other with supportive embraces while wearing lanyards with large photos of Nia. The front row was left vacant until the arrival of Wilson’s parents, Alicia Grayson and Ansar Muhammad.
There were whispers among the 30 or more African American women and men that filled the room but it fell silent as Cramer entered and court began session shortly after 9:00 a.m.
Assistant District Attorney L.D. Louis, who was listed as a deputy district attorney for the SVP Unit (which worked on involuntary civil commitments) until July of 2018 and is currently listed on LinkedIn as co-president of the Bay Area Black Prosecutors Association, called into question the defense attorney’s ability to declare that Cowell was “paranoid” or “delusional” without also revealing what instances led her to that conclusion.
Cowell’s public defender, Christina Marie Moore, argued that she was not able to get information from the defendant because of the “delusions” and stated that there was “not even a doubt in (her) mind that they don’t comport with reality” and also mentioned that they were “increasing in frequency.”
After Louis asserted that Moore was not certified to diagnosis Cowell, Moore gave a brief recitation of her previous statements regarding working with Cowell and cited previous 5150 holds that included him telling a doctor to “remove his breast implants.”
Moore further recounted Cowell’s multiple instances of being institutionalized through both involuntary holds and prison medical holds including a stay at the Atascadero State Hospital from January 2018 until his release in May.
Two months later, Cowell was captured on video following the three Wilson girls, Nia, Letifah and Tashiya, attacking them, wiping off the knife, and tossing the murder weapon near a construction zone before fleeing until his ultimate capture over 24 hours later.
There are also multiple instances of Cowell coming into contact with BART police prior to killing Nia Wilson.
Louis pushed back by stating that a 5150 hold is usually initiated by law enforcement who are not trained to diagnose mental illness and mentioned that Cowell’s actions could be the result of chronic drug use.
Cramer, who became a judge in 2015 after working for the public defender’s office for 11 years, cited a 2015 case as precedent for his findings that the lawyers’ statements, as well as Cowell’s record, is substantial evidence of his possible mental incompetence.
At the end of the hearing, the family poured out of the room with looks of anxiety on their faces.
Beverly Thompson, Grayson’s stepmother, stated that she “already knew they would do this” and that she felt the sympathy for Cowell was because of his race. “If he had been a Black man, he would have been gone already,” she said.
The sentiment was shared by many members of the group. Dionne Wilson said that the family has experienced four deaths in the three months surrounding the attack on the girls and that she is left feeling “traumatized.”