Accused killer testifies Wilson sisters were ‘aliens’ who kidnapped grandma
OAKLAND — The man accused of killing Nia Wilson says he stabbed her and her sister because he believed they were aliens that kidnapped his grandmother.
John Cowell, 29, is accused of fatally stabbing 18-year-old Nia Wilson and her sister Letifah Wilson on July 22, 2018 at the MacArthur BART station. Letifah Wilson survived the attack but Nia Wilson bled out almost immediately.
“I stabbed both of the females in the crew because I believed they would not give my grandmother back,” Cowell said as he took the stand Tuesday morning.
Cowell has a history of mental illness including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and antisocial personality disorder.
Cowell described in a hard-to-follow statement that he believed aliens create “fake skin” for people, and that he couldn’t tell who people were. The aliens also communicated to him through a small radio in his head.
He also testified that a week before the July 22, 2018 stabbing, he was punched in the face by a black woman, who supposedly recorded the incident on her cellphone. He said he therefore is “not guilty.”
In cross-examination by Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Butch Ford, the prosecutor brought up that after the stabbing, Cowell made a statement to an African-American woman on an AC Transit bus he took in Oakland.
Cowell allegedly said “You’re trying to throw something on me little n****r?”
Cowell’s defense attorney, Christina Moore, objected to the phrase being used, and said that Ford was fabricating the line. But Ford held up a transcript taken of the surveillance video of Cowell riding the bus. Judge Allan Hymer will rule on the objection after the lunch break Tuesday.
In the video, shown to the jury in its entirety, Cowell can be seen addressing what appears to be a young woman on the bus with friends. Although there is audio, it’s unclear what is being said.
Although Ford asked Cowell if he stabbed the two women because they were black, Cowell’s response was non-coherent. He said that they didn’t have a permit for standing over, and that they three women were gang members. He also said they were staring at him, and pointing to him.
The fatal stabbing of Nia Wilson, an African-American woman, and Cowell, a Caucasian man, gathered nationwide attention that the incident was racially-fueled and could have been a hate crime. Prosecutors however, never charged Cowell with a hate crime.
Tuesday’s testimony so far marks the first time race has been mentioned in the trial, which began last Wednesday.
In his answers with his own attorney, Moore, Cowell was direct in his answers, oftentimes staring straight ahead and generally monotone. He would often say “I beg my pardon” or call Moore “Ma’am.” But in cross-examination with Ford, he was more combative, and definitive whenever he would answer “yes” or “no.”
Despite Moore showing him his own medical records that he was hospitalized multiple times in his adult life for mental health related issues, Cowell mostly denied them all or said he couldn’t remember. At one point, he even said that the piece of paper Moore handed him that was a medical record, was blank.
In questioning by Ford, he denied taking drugs such as methamphetamine or heroin every day, even though he previously told police that he would do so daily, along with drink 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.
Cowell’s testimony continues Tuesday afternoon in the courtroom of Judge Allan Hymer.
Check back for updates.