Accused killer of Nia Wilson, John Cowell, yells on witness stand, gets kicked out

Photo of Accused killer of Nia Wilson, John Cowell, yells on witness stand, gets kicked out
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OAKLAND — John Cowell became so combative on the witness stand, yelling obscenities at the prosecutor, that he was booted from his own murder trial just moments before he was to be shown a video of the fatal stabbing of Nia Wilson.

“You told me f*****g not guilty,” Cowell yelled. “Back the f**k down, now they can’t force me to say s**t if I’m f*****g leaving.”

Booking photo of John Lee Cowell, suspect in the murder of Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station on Sunday, July 22, 2018. (Alameda County Sheriff’s Office)

Cowell at first, refused to come to the courtroom of Judge Allan Hymer Thursday morning, and didn’t show until nearly 11 a.m. Cowell is standing trial for the fatal stabbing of Nia Wilson, 18, and the attempted murder of her sister Letifah Wilson on July 22, 2018 at the MacArthur BART station platform.

Before being removed from the courtroom after his outburst, Cowell was shown snippets of video of the moments before the fatal stabbing. At first, he continued to repeat “I don’t know what this is,” pointing with both hands at the monitor, which depicted a still of Cowell with a hooded sweatshirt on, his hood up, and sunglasses on as he exited the BART train. When prosecutor Butch Ford asked him if he recognized Nia Wilson on the platform he said “yes” and said she had a white top on.

When Ford showed Cowell in court the alleged murder weapon, a kitchen knife, Cowell said he recognized it. But when Ford asked him if he could use this knife to stab someone, Cowell said “No.”

“No, you can’t use a knife to stab someone,” Cowell said, chuckling and smiling.

This was the second time Cowell was slightly sarcastic on the witness stand during cross-examination. On Tuesday, when Ford asked him if he liked having roommates, or cell mates, in jail, Cowell replied “I love having roommates. I’m seriously into it.”

He also admitted Thursday to having a prior conviction for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, committed in Contra Costa County in 2016; Cowell had served a two year prison sentence.

Cowell has a history of diagnosed mental illness including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and antisocial personality disorder. In his testimony, Cowell said he believed the Wilson sisters were aliens who kidnapped his grandmother and were holding her hostage. He also mentioned the concept of “fake skin” or “skin suits” that aliens used to pretend they were other people.

Cowell also repeatedly told Ford Thursday morning phrases such as “You said I was not guilty. Is it OK if I’m not guilty?”

Before the start of court Thursday, Ford announced to friends of family of the Wilson sisters that if Cowell refused to finish testifying, his entire testimony could be thrown out, and the jury could be told not to consider it. It’s not clear if Cowell will return to the courtroom to finish his testimony.

After Cowell was removed, and the court took a break, defense attorney Christina Moore called upon Cowell’s aunt, Saundra Ferriera as a witness. She testified that his mother, her sister-in-law, also suffered from severe paranoia, heard voices and acted erratically. Cowell was raised by his grandmother and would occassinsaly stay with his aunt.

Ferriera also said that Cowell would talk about how aliens had taken his grandmother, after she passed away in 2013 when he was incarcerated. Ferriera said she thinks Cowell never accepted his grandmothers death.

Ferriera testified that Cowell would tell her, and his father, that their skin looked “funny” and they weren’t really his aunt and father, but had been taken over by aliens.

But in cross-examination, Ford questioned the aunt why she never mentioned aliens or “fake skin” to defense investigators in a statement taken in October 2018 after Cowell’s arrest. In the four-page document, these two concepts were not mentioned.

Ferriera said she didn’t think to mention it, but probably should have. She also agreed that Cowell was addicted to drugs, and told investigators that after he received inherence money from his grandmother’s death, that he used it to buy heroin.

Testimony continues Thursday afternoon.

Check back for updates.

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