By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
A judge granted prosecutors’ request and ordered the 27-yearold White male accused of fatally stabbing Black teen Nia Wilson on a Bay Area train platform to undergo an expert psychiatric evaluation on May 30.
In a hearing on May 6, the judge set a competency trial date for July 29. John Cowell, a convicted felon and an alleged fare jumping transient, slashed Nia, 18, across the neck and stabbed her 26-year-old sister Letifah in front of their younger sister Tashiya before fleeing the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland last July 22.
His criminal case was put on hold after his attorney, Christina Moore, said last December, she felt Mr. Cowell may be mentally incompetent to stand trial. He has had two mental exams already, one by a court-appointed expert who deemed him incompetent to stand trial and another who could not reach a conclusion, according to news reports.
“I’m excited about it. It’s moving fast, because to me, it’s like they are harboring a fugitive,” said Letifah Wilson. “But with the date that was given to us–July 29, I’m happy about it, but I want to get things started. How long are we going to go to court and see this man just sitting there? It’s like, how long are ya’ll going to keep us waiting?” she told The Final Call.
During an April 24 hearing Judge Morris Jacobson granted Mr. Cowell immunity for the approximate 3 to 4-hour psychiatric evaluation to be conducted by an expert for the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. Nothing he may say about the case may be used against him in the criminal case. There will be a mental competency hearing before the case proceeds, but at press time, no trial date had yet been set.
At the May 6 hearing, Mr. Cowell, who is in Santa Rita county jail, asked the judge through his attorney, “Does this mean I’m going to Napa,” meaning the state mental hospital in Northern California’s wine country.
“If you can speak and ask the judge questions through your lawyer, you’re competent for anything else to be asked from you, so I just hope, I hope, hope, hope that he complies, because I can stay humble for as long as I can, but I’m just ready to go ahead and push it through,” Letifah Wilson told The Final Call in a phone interview after a previous April 24 hearing.
“I’m glad that we’re able to move this process to next week instead of next month, and we are in motion. We’re just ready to fight now,” she said. She also said she is doing good, holding on, and keeping her spirits high through this time with the help of loved ones and self-care.
Her family and their supporters feel the defense has been using stall tactics, she said, and that for her, being in the same space with Mr. Cowell produces raw emotions.
“We appreciate everybody coming down there to support us, and we would appreciate if we have more support in the courtroom. The more people we have the more I believe we’ll get things heard more nationwide, because one thing I promised to my dad, myself and my sisters and the rest of my siblings is that we’re fighting for justice for everyone,” she added.
“I promised to them that I will never let my sister’s name die, and that’s one thing she wants us to do, is keep her name alive. Don’t ever let her name die. She was here for a purpose and the purpose was to get us together as one, as a community, and as a people in her name. Nia means purpose.”
On April 12, the family filed a lawsuit against BART for unspecified monetary damages alleging the agency failed in its duty to provide riders with the highest standard of care and to protect them against reasonably foreseeable criminal conduct.
The Arns Law Firm filed the civil lawsuit on behalf of Nia, Letifah, their father Ansar El Muhammad, their mother Alicia Grayson, and sister Tashiya after BART failed to respond to a public entity claim filed through Alameda County on August 22, 2018.
Mr. Cowell was found riding BART the day after the incident, but he should have been stopped at the turnstile and never been permitted to enter the BART system in the first place, and this was a foreseeable and preventable tragedy, the lawsuit alleges.