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Judge orders suspect in Nia Wilson case to face trial for murder

An Alameda County Superior Court judge on Tuesday ruled that a trial can go forward next month for a transient man facing a murder charge for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland last year.

Judge James Cramer ruled Tuesday that the trial of John Lee Cowell, 29, could proceed starting on Jan. 6, but ordered an additional evaluation of Cowell’s mental competency, Alameda County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said.

At a hearing Monday, Cramer had said he needed additional time to study legal issues surrounding Cowell’s mental competency to stand trial for the killing of Wilson and the injuring of her sister on July 22, 2018.

Cramer had suspended criminal proceedings against Cowell on Dec. 27, 2018, saying there was “substantial evidence” that he was not mentally competent to stand trial.

But on July 17, the judge reinstated the proceedings based in part on a new doctor’s report. At a hearing on Nov. 22, Cowell pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and the Jan. 6 trial date was set.

At a hearing last week, Cramer noted that Cowell has refused to meet with two doctors previously appointed to evaluate his mental state, and that previous psychiatrists who evaluated him said he may be “malingering,” feigning or exaggerating his illness.

Cramer noted that Cowell has a long history of mental illness and has made “nonsensical and delusional statements.”

Cowell’s defense attorney Christina Moore said Monday that it’s possible her client is still suffering from mental illness in addition to malingering.

Cowell faces charges of murder and attempted murder, as well as a special circumstance allegation that he killed Wilson while lying in wait. If he is convicted of that charge, he could be sentenced to the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

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