A Bay Area man who stabbed two sisters on a commuter train platform in 2018, killing one and wounding the other, was convicted of first-degree murder on Tuesday. The New York Times reports, a jury also found the man, 29-year-old John Lee Cowell, guilty of attempted murder and the special circumstances count of lying in wait, a form of premeditated homicide in which the victim is unsuspecting.
Cowell, who is white, was not charged with a hate crime, but many believe that the sisters were targeted because they were black. During the trial, Cowell reportedly testified about getting into an altercation with a black woman a week earlier and was asked by the prosecutors about trying to provoke a fight with another black woman immediately after the stabbing.
Cowell said during the trial that the sisters were aliens and part of a gang that kidnapped his grandmother, according to news media reports.
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Cowell slashed 18-year-old Nia Wilson’s throat, killing her and stabbed Letifah Wilson, 27, while they were boarding a Bay Area Rapid Transit train in Oakland, Calif., on July 22, 2018. Another sister, Tashiya Wilson, was with them when they were attacked, but was not injured.
In the trial’s next phase, which begins Wednesday, the jury must decide whether or not Cowell is criminally insane. He has a history of violence and mental illness.
He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, contending that he has schizophrenia. Mr. Cowell could be sentenced to life in prison if the jury rejected his insanity defense. Otherwise, he could be sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Jonathan Davis, a lawyer for the Wilson family, said in a statement on Tuesday night that the family was “grateful for the hard work of the D.A.’s office and the jury’s decision.” Adding that “This is part of the healing process.”
Nia Wilson’s family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against BART.