OAKLAND — The man accused of stabbing Nia Wilson to death on a BART station platform testified in court Tuesday that he attacked her and her older sister because they were aliens who kidnapped his grandmother.
“I stabbed both of the females in the crew because I believed they would not give my grandmother back,” John Cowell said after taking the witness stand in the murder where he’s accused of killing 18-year-old Nia Wilson and wounding her sister Letifah Wilson on July 22, 2018, at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland. Letifah Wilson survived the knife attack.
Cowell, who has a history of mental illness that includes schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and antisocial personality disorder, described in a hard-to-follow statement that he believed aliens create “fake skin” for people and that he couldn’t tell who they were. The aliens also communicated to him through a small radio in his head.
And for the first time since the notorious incident was reported, a possible racial motive for the attack emerged, although some people engaged in a national discourse of the case — fueled by social media — previously had speculated race was a factor because Cowell is white and the Wilson sisters are black. Prosecutors, however, never charged Cowell with a hate crime.
Cowell testified that a week before the stabbing, he was punched in the face by a black woman, who supposedly recorded the incident on her cellphone, so therefore he is “not guilty.”
In his cross-examination, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Butch Ford stated that about an hour after the stabbing, Cowell made a derogatory comment to a black woman inside an AC Transit bus he took in Oakland: “You’re trying to throw something on me little (racial epithet)?,” Cowell told the woman, according to the prosecutor.
Cowell’s defense attorney, Christina Moore, objected to the phrase, which she said Ford had fabricated. Ford responded by holding up a transcript from the surveillance video of Cowell riding the bus.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Allan Hymer advised the jury that the transcript was only an interpretation of the person who transcribed the audio and therefore should not be considered evidence.
In the video, shown to the jury in its entirety, Cowell can be seen addressing what appears to be a young black woman on the bus with friends. Although there is audio, it’s unclear what is being said.
Ford asked Cowell if he stabbed Nia and Letifa Wilson because they were black, but his response was not coherent. He said they didn’t have a permit for standing over him and that they and their other sister were gang members. He also said they were staring and pointing at him.
In Cowell’s answers to his own attorney’s questions, he often stared straight ahead and generally spoke in a monotone. He often said “I beg my pardon” and called Moore “ma’am.” But when cross-examined by Ford, he became combative.
Cowell eventually stopped answering Ford’s questions as the two talked over each other. As Ford continued to ask questions, Cowell shot back with statements such as “I can’t do anything for you now” and “what are you going to do with not guilty?”
Cowell told Ford he was being rude multiple times. “How did you micro-manage being rude to me?” he asked the prosecutor at one point.
Before their animated exchange, Cowell did admit to stabbing the women to “stop the threat” against his grandmother and to defend his family. When Moore asked him if he thought what he did was “the right thing to do” Cowell replied “yes.”
Through his questioning, Ford tried to show that Cowell was quite aware of reality.
Cowell allegedly told clinicians from Alameda County Behavioral Health during his time in custody at Santa Rita Jail that he didn’t want to take his medication so he would “appear crazy” to the jury. When Ford showed him records confirming that, Cowell said he didn’t remember saying that.
He also didn’t remember telling the clinicians that he wanted to go back to Atascadero State Hospital so “they can release me.”
He did admit that he wanted to be found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” which is the plea he initially entered. If he’s found insane during the sanity phase of the trial, he could face time in a state mental hospital instead of prison.
When Moore showed him his medical records indicating he was hospitalized multiple times in his adult life for mental health related issues, Cowell either denied that was the case or said he couldn’t remember. At one point, he even said that the medical record Moore handed him was just a blank.
In response to Ford’s questions, Cowell denied taking drugs such as methamphetamine or heroin every day, even though he previously told police he did, along with a fifth of alcohol. Ford also asked him if he remembered admitting that he would get “5150’d” or placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold by police because he wanted a place to stay. Cowell said he didn’t remember.
The trial continues Thursday, with Cowell likely back on the stand.
This content was originally published here.