Suspect in Deadly BART Stabbing of Nia Wilson Pleads Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

A transient man pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on Friday to a murder charge for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland last year.

Acting against the advice of his attorney, John Lee Cowell, 29, also asked for a speedy trial, so Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy set a Jan. 6 trial date for him.

Cowell is charged with murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Wilson and her sister, 26-year-old Letifah Wilson, on the platform at the MacArthur station at 9:36 p.m. on July 22, 2018.

Cowell also is charged with a special circumstance allegation that he killed Wilson while lying in wait, a charge that could have resulted in the death penalty if he's convicted in a criminal trial.

However, prosecutors said in August that they won't seek the death penalty against Cowell and instead will focus on convicting him and having him sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Superior Court Judge James Cramer suspended the criminal proceedings against Cowell last Dec. 27, saying there was "substantial evidence" that he's mentally incompetent to stand trial.

But at a hearing on July 17 Cramer reinstated the criminal proceedings against Cowell, based in part on a recent doctor's report that found that Cowell is now competent to stand trial.

At Friday's hearing Judge Murphy denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Cowell.

In addition, because Cowell pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, Murphy will appoint two doctors to evaluate his current mental state.

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