27-year-old John Lee Cowell, a transient man from Concord, was arrested in connection with the July 22 fatal stabbing of Nia Wilson. (Courtesy image)

Attorney seeks to have charge against BART suspect dismissed

The defense attorney for a transient who’s charged with special circumstances murder for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland last year will seek to have the charges against him dismissed at a hearing on Friday.

However, John Lee Cowell’s attorney Christina Moore is asking that she be allowed to file part of her motion to set aside the grand jury indictment against him under seal because it contains potentially prejudicial

information.

Cowell, 29, 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.

But Alameda County prosecutor Butch Ford said at a hearing in August that his office has decided not to 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.

Moore wrote in court papers that she wants to file part of her motion to set aside Cowell’s indictment under seal “on the grounds there is a reasonable likelihood that making all or any part of the motion public will

prejudice the defendant’s (Cowell’s) rights to due process and to a fair and impartial trial.”

Moore said, “This case has already garnered an overwhelming amount of media attention.”

The defense attorney said it’s highly likely that if parts of the motion aren’t filed under seal, exhibits that would be inadmissible at a trial “will be discussed, quoted, and written about in the media.”

Moore said such a result would interfere with Cowell’s ability to get a fair and impartial trial because potential jurors would be exposed to inadmissible evidence.

Moore said the exhibits she doesn’t want to be made public are a police report and the transcript of an audio recording, which she said are hearsay documents that wouldn’t be admissible at a trial.

Moore said her request is “narrowly tailored” and isn’t asking that all of her motion be filed under seal.

She also said she isn’t asking for a closed hearing when Cowell appears before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy on Friday morning.

Moore said she only is asking that part of the motion be filed under seal, which she said is “the least restrictive alternative available that preserves John Lee Cowell’s rights to due process and to a fair trial by an impartial jury.”

Cowell also is scheduled to enter a plea at the hearing on Friday.

Another Alameda County 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.

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