Suspect in Deadly BART Station Stabbing Charged With Murder

What to Know

  • John Cowell is accused of fatally stabbing 18-year-old Nia Wilson and wounding her sister at the MacArthur BART station Sunday night.
  • Cowell is slated to be arraigned Wednesday and could be charged with first-degree murder.
  • A motive for the unprovoked attack remains unclear.

A 27-year-old transient was charged Wednesday with murder and premeditated attempted murder for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson and the stabbing of her sister at the MacArthur BART station on Sunday night.

John Lee Cowell said very little at his short three-minute hearing at an Oakland courtroom that was packed with Wilson's family members, law enforcement officials and reporters and was ordered by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Scott Patton to return to court on Aug. 22 to enter a plea.

Wilson and Letifah Wilson, her 26-year-old sister, were stabbed at the MacArthur station at 9:36 p.m. Sunday, BART officials said.

BART police Officer Russell Medeiros wrote in a probable cause statement that video surveillance at the MacArthur station shows Cowell "stabbing the two victims and then running off."

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 wrote.

Prosecutors allege that Cowell was convicted of second-degree robbery in Contra Costa County on Oct. 12, 2016, and of assault with a deadly weapon in Contra Costa County on May 25, 2012.

Cowell's 2016 conviction apparently is from an incident shortly after 5 p.m. on May 27, 2016, in which El Cerrito police say he stole several items from the Lucky Supermarkets store at the El Cerrito Plaza and pulled a replica gun on a security guard who tried to stop him.

Officers then arrested him at the El Cerrito Plaza BART station, police said.

El Cerrito police said that about a month earlier, at 4:27 a.m. on April 26, 2016, officers responded to the Safeway grocery store at 11450 San Pablo Ave. after receiving a report that a habitual shoplifter was outside the store waiting for it to open.

They contacted Cowell and he admitted he was on probation. Police said an officer verified Cowell's probation status and then found drugs in his possession when he searched him. Cowell was booked and then released with a citation.

As Cowell sits behind bars at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, loved ones and community members in Oakland continue to mourn Wilson's death, placing flowers and candles at a memorial at the Oakland station where she was pronounced dead.

Nia Wilson's father, Ansar El Muhammad, showed up at the courthouse Wednesday morning before Cowell's appearance and reiterated his stance since the deadly attack. He is clamoring for justice for his daughters.

"My daughter was everything to me," Muhammad said, speaking about Nia. "She was so beautiful, so inspirational, had dreams. You know ... I'm supposed to be planning her graduation, not her funeral. Basically all I want is justice for my daughters."

As for justice, Muhammad hopes that the attacker is "prosecuted to the full extent."

"I will never see my daughter again," Muhammad said. "She will never be able to pursue her dreams. No parent ever want to go through what I'm going through right now."

Nia Wilson was slated to graduate in December with "very high honors," her father said. She had plans to join the military after graduating.

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