Judge allows prosecution expert to examine BART stabbing suspect
OAKLAND, Calif. (BCN) - A judge on Wednesday granted the prosecution's request to have a psychiatrist it has hired conduct a mental examination 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.
Dr. Jason Roof is to examine John Lee Cowell, 28, for three to four hours on May 30 at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where he is being held without bail for the stabbing at the MacArthur station at 9:36 p.m. on July 22, 2018, Alameda County Superior Court Judge James Cramer said.
Cramer ordered Cowell to cooperate with the examination by Ruth, who is an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California Davis Medical Center and has been qualified as an expert witness and testified about mental disorders, sanity and competence to stand trial.
Cramer suspended the criminal proceedings against Cowell 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.
One expert said he believes Cowell is incompetent to stand trial but the other said he was unable to arrive at a conclusion about Cowell's competency.
Cramer said Wednesday that there will be a trial "soon" on whether Cowell is competent to stand trial.
Although Cramer granted the prosecution's request to have Ruth examine Cowell and that it be given his psychiatric records, he said anything that Cowell says to the psychiatrist can only be used at his competency trial and can't be used at a potential criminal trial if he ultimately is found to be competent.
Cowell is charged with murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Wilson and her sister, 26-year-old Letifah Wilson, 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.
At the end of his lengthy hearing on Wednesday, Cowell, who was dressed in a red jail uniform, asked Cramer, "Your honor, can I ask you a question?"
Cramer told Cowell not to say anything in court but then whispered to his attorney Christina Moore, who said Cowell wanted to know if his interview with a psychiatrist means he is going to the state mental hospital in Napa.
Cramer didn't respond to Cowell's question.
Cramer ordered Cowell to return to court on May 6, when he will determine which of Cowell's psychiatric records will be provided to the prosecution and Root and to set the date for the trial on his competency.
After the hearing, Wilson's father Ansar El Muhammad said, "It's good to see that things are moving up" in the case.
Referring to resolving the issue of Cowell's competency, Muhammad said, "The sooner the better for both families."
Wilson's older sister Tomisha Wilson said she believes, "He (Cowell) is competent and they (his lawyers) know it."