Competency of BART stabbing suspect remains a big legal issue

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Prosecutors and defense lawyers are still battling about the mental competency of a transient charged with murder for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland last July.

John Lee Cowell, 28, who is charged with murder for the stabbing death at the MacArthur station at about 9:36 p.m. on July 22, was scheduled to appear in court on Friday but his hearing was postponed until April 19 because of the ongoing legal squabbling in his case.%INLINE%

Alameda County Superior Court James Cramer suspended the legal proceedings against John Lee Cowell, 28, on Dec. 27, saying there is "substantial evidence" that he's mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Cramer appointed two psychiatrists to examine Cowell and submit reports to the court on their findings about his mental competence but their conclusions differed.

Dr. Marlin Griffith said in a report submitted to the court on Feb. 13 that he believes Cowell is incompetent to stand trial.

But Dr. John Chamberlin said in a report submitted on March 8 that he was unable to arrive at a conclusion about Cowell's competency.

Cowell's lead attorney Christina Moore has said Griffith's finding is sufficient basis for Cowell to be placed in a state mental institution to get treatment aimed at restoring his competence. If that happens he could still stand trial at a later date at a later date.

However, Alameda County prosecutors want Cramer to appoint a third psychiatrist to examine Cowell.

But Cowell's attorneys oppose appointing a third psychiatrist and that's one of the issues that Cramer will rule on at the April 19 hearing.

Cowell's attorneys also have said in court documents that they want a trial be scheduled on the issue of his competence.

Another issue that Cramer will address on April 19 is the prosecution's request for confidential medical and mental health records for Cowell's entire life.

Alameda County Assistant Public Defender Charles Denton wrote in a motion filed on Thursday that the prosecution's request for the records is "impermissibly overbroad" and would violate patient confidentiality laws.

Denton said prosecutors are seeking records that should only be released if Cowell stands trial.

Denton wrote that an affidavit filed by the prosecution's "leaves no doubt that the demand for information goes far beyond mental health records" for Cowell.

Denton said among the information being sought by prosecutors is Cowell's dental records and billing and insurance records.

Cowell's lawyers said in another court filing that they oppose the prosecution's request to unseal the reports of the psychiatrists who examined Cowell.

Moore said at the Dec. 27 hearing that Cowell was treated for mental illness at two state mental institutions between 2012 and earlier in 2018 and has been placed on 5150 psychiatric holds 22 times, including three times in the month before he allegedly stabbed Wilson and her sister, Letifah Wilson, 26.

Cowell is charged with murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Wilson and her sister as well as a special circumstance allegation that he killed Wilson while lying in wait, an allegation that could result in the death penalty or life in prison without parole if he's convicted.