Prosecutors won't seek death penalty for Oakland BART stabbing suspect

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Monday, August 19, 2019
Man accused of killing Nia Wilson to enter plea today
The man accused of stabbing and killing 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART Station in July 2018 is expected to enter a plea in the case Monday, August 19, 2019.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Alameda County prosecutors said Monday that they won't seek the death penalty for a transient charged with special circumstances murder for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland last year.

John Lee Cowell, 28, was scheduled to enter a plea Monday on 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, but his attorney still hasn't decided how she wants him to plead so his plea entry was postponed until Oct. 11.

RELATED: Nia Wilson's family frustrated by another delay in John Cowell case

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 prosecutor Butch Ford said on Monday 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.

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 he is now competent to stand trial.

At Cowell's Oct. 11 court appearance at which he is scheduled to enter a plea, there also will be a hearing on a defense motion to dismiss the charges against him.

At Monday's hearing, Judge Mark McCannon scheduled Cowell's criminal trial to begin on Jan. 6.

See more stories and videos on the Nia Wilson case.