Judge may let prosecutors see BART stabbing suspect's mental health records

John Lee Coweel delayed entering a plea Friday on the murder charge he faces for the fatal stabbing of Nia Wilson, 18, at the MacArthur BART station.

A judge said on Friday that he's inclined to grant the prosecution's request to give their expert witness the psychological records of a transient who's 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, is charged with murder for the stabbing at the MacArthur station at about 9:36 p.m. on July 22, but Alameda County Superior Court Judge James Cramer suspended the legal proceedings against him 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 expert said he was unable to arrive at a conclusion about Cowell's competency.

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

Alameda County prosecutors want Cramer to allow another psychiatrist that they've hired as an expert to see Cowell's records so the psychiatrist can make another assessment of his competency.

At the end of a lengthy hearing on the matter Cramer said, "I find good cause" to grant the prosecution's request but he wants prosecutors to file amended legal papers on the issue before he makes a final ruling next Wednesday.

Prosecutors want to see all of Cowell's medical and mental health records for his entire life and to be able to use those records in his criminal case if he eventually stands trial but Cramer said he's inclined to only let them see his mental health records and limit the use of those records to competency proceedings and not permit them to be used at a criminal trial.

Charles Denton with the public defender's office said the prosecution's request for all of Cowell's records is "overbroad" and it doesn't have legal grounds for "rummaging through a person's entire medical history."

The attorneys in the case said there probably will be a hearing later this year on the issue of Cowell's mental competency to stand trial.

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.