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BART Stabbing Suspect’s Competency to Be Addressed Friday

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Prosecutors and defense lawyers on Friday morning will continue their battle over the mental competency of a transient who's charged with murder for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland last July.

John Lee Cowell, 28, is charged with murder for the stabbing, which occurred at the MacArthur station at 9:36 p.m. on July 22, but Alameda County Superior Court Judge James Cramer suspended the legal proceedings against him on Dec. 27, saying there is "substantial evidence" that he's mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Cramer appointed two psychiatrists to examine Cowell and submit reports to the court on their findings about his mental competence but their conclusions differed.

Dr. Marlin Griffith said in a report submitted to the court on Feb. 13 that he believes Cowell is incompetent to stand trial.

But Dr. John Chamberlin said in a report submitted on March 8 that he was unable to arrive at a conclusion about Cowell's competency.

Alameda County prosecutors want Cramer to appoint a third psychiatrist to examine Cowell but Cowell's attorneys oppose doing so and that's one of the issues that Cramer will resolve at Cowell's hearing at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland at 9 a.m. on Friday.

Cowell's lead attorney Christina Moore has said Griffith's finding is sufficient basis for Cowell to be placed in a state mental institution to get treatment aimed at restoring his competence. If that happens he could still stand trial at a later date at a later date.

Additional issues that Cramer will address on Friday are the prosecution's request for confidential medical and mental health records for Cowell's entire life and its request to have him ordered to submit to a mental examination for the purpose of determining whether he's competent to stand trial.

Cowell's lawyers said in a brief they filed on Thursday that they oppose having him submit to such an examination because information about his competency can be obtained from other sources and they believe the prosecution has failed to show why an exam is necessary.

They also say Cowell will invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Cowell's lawyers said they are concerned because lead prosecutor Butch Ford "has made it clear that he believes statements Mr. Cowell makes to competency evaluators are admissible at his criminal trial."

In a motion filed two weeks ago, Cowell's attorneys said the prosecution's request for his medical and mental health records is "impermissibly overbroad" and would violate patient confidentiality laws.

They said prosecutors are seeking records that should only be released if Cowell stands trial.

Cowell is charged with murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Wilson and her sister, 26-year-old Letifah Wilson, as well as a special circumstance allegation that he killed Wilson while lying in wait, an allegation that could result in the death penalty or life in prison without parole if he's convicted.

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