Alameda County prosecutors said Wednesday that they've added a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait to the murder charge that a 27-year-old transient faces for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station last month.
John Lee Cowell was scheduled to enter a plea today to the charges he faces for stabbing Wilson and her 26-year-old sister Letifah Wilson, who survived, at the MacArthur station at about 9:36 p.m. on July 22.
Cowell also faces an attempted murder charge for allegedly stabbing Wilson's sister.
If Cowell is convicted of murder and the special circumstance of lying in wait he would face life in prison without parole or possibly the death penalty if prosecutors pursue that option.
His plea entry was postponed until Sept. 14 at the request of his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christina Moore, who said she hasn't yet received all of the evidence in the case.
Moore also objected to the filing of the special circumstance allegation, saying she hasn't seen any evidence to support the prosecution's contention that Cowell was lying in wait when he allegedly stabbed the two sisters.
About 30 of Wilson's family members and friends attended Cowell's brief hearing but they left the courtroom without talking to reporters.
Video surveillance at the MacArthur station shows Cowell stabbing the two Wilson sisters and then running off, BART police Officer Russell Medeiros wrote in a probable cause statement that was filed when Cowell was charged.
Cowell discarded a backpack and his sweatshirt at the parking structure at the station and when officers recovered it they found several items with his name and date of birth, Medeiros said.
Acting on a tip from a passenger, BART police arrested Cowell at the Pleasant Hill station the night after Wilson was fatally stabbed.
Cowell's family said in a statement after he was arrested that he's suffered from mental illness most of his life and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said after Cowell was arraigned on July 25 that her office is prosecuting Cowell as a three-strikes defendant because he has two prior felony convictions in Contra Costa County, one for second-degree robbery on Oct. 12, 2016, and one for assault with a deadly weapon on May 25, 2012.
Many black community leaders have said that the District Attorney's Office should consider charging Cowell, who's white, with a hate crime for allegedly killing Wilson, who was black, but thus far prosecutors haven't found evidence that would support that enhancement.