The man charged with killing 18-year-old Nia Wilson, an African-American woman, in July at an Oakland train station could avoid standing trial for murder.
Alameda County Judge James Cramer suspended criminal proceedings Thursday so doctors could evaluate the mental fitness of John Lee Cowell to participate in his own defense, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Cowell, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder for stabbing Wilson to death and attempted murder for his attack on Wilson’s older sister, Letifah. He allegedly stabbed both women in the neck.
Cowell’s attorney, Christina Moore, told the judge at the Thursday hearing that her client’s serious mental illness disqualifies him from standing trial.
“It appears the delusions and paranoia have been increasing in frequency,” Moore said, adding that his statements “don’t comport with reality.”
However, family and supporters of Wilson have argued that Cowell was motivated by racial hatred—not insanity—when he killed Wilson and must stand trial.
Wilson and her sister were standing on a Bay Area Rapid Transit station platform when Cowell allegedly launched an apparently unprovoked attack on the women. After a brief manhunt, authorities captured Cowell.
“It is a hate crime. That’s how I feel, okay?” Malika Harris, Wilson’s 25-year-old sister, told CNN shortly after the murder, adding that Wilson was as “beautiful inside and out,” and “always positive.”
Wilson was employed at a clothing consignment store but aspired to join the military.
Nearly 1,000 people marched through the streets of Oakland in a vigil for Wilson in the aftermath of the killing to demanded justice.
Cowell has a history of violence and was no stranger to the criminal justice system. He was convicted of second-degree robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in 2016, according to prosecutors. He was paroled in May after being sentenced to two years in prison for second-degree robbery.
However, Moore is trying to convince the court to focus on Cowell’s mental health history in the days and weeks before he plunged a knife into Wilson, as well as his current state of mind. She stated that he was frequently homeless and was hospitalized 22 times between 2012 and 2018.
Cowell was also picked up and held involuntarily, under what’s called a 5150, because of his suspected mental illness that authorities believed endangered himself and others.