Jury convicts John Cowell with first-degree murder in BART stabbing death of Nia Wilson

After deliberating for about two hours on Tuesday, a jury of eight women and four men convicted John Cowell of first degree murder with a special circumstance of lying in wait in the fatal stabbing of Nia Wilson. Cowell, 29, was also convicted of attempted murder for injuring her sister Letifah on Oakland's MacArthur BART station platform in July 2018. 

The unprovoked attack took the life of Wilson, 18. The courtroom drama has played out with Wilson's family members saying that Cowell acted crazy to get off on an insanity defense. Cowell's attorney's have said their client has schizophrenia. 

Cowell, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A change of venue motion has been filed on behalf of John Lee Cowell, the suspect charged in the murder of Nia Wilson at a BART station.

Family members of the victims sobbed as the verdict was read. There was no visible reaction from Cowell who was in court dressed in a blue and white checkered shirt. His attorney Christina Moore declined comment. 

The trial moves to a sanity phase on Wednesday where they'll determine whether Cowell was sane at the time of the crimes. If Cowell is found to have been insane at the time of the attack, he would serve his sentence in a state mental hospital instead of prison.

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Cowell was absent from most of his trial, either because of outbursts or because he's refused to come to court.

But he was in court on Tuesday morning when Alameda County prosecutor Butch Ford presented his rebuttal closing argument and was present again on Tuesday afternoon when the jury announced its verdict. Ford also declined to comment after the verdict was read. 

Ford said, "I'm not disputing that he has some sort of mental health issue but I'm disputing that it played a role in the stabbing."

Moore admitted in her closing argument on Monday that Cowell stabbed Nia and Letifah Wilson but said he's been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and his mind "was completely divorced from reality" at the time.

However, Ford told jurors on Tuesday that Cowell admitted on the witness stand that he intended to stab the two sisters.

Ford said, "He tells you and the video (of the stabbing) shows you he meant to do it."

Nia Wilson, Letifah Wilson and a third sister boarded a San Francisco-bound train at the Concord BART station the night of July 22, 2018, after attending a family gathering for someone who had been killed. Cowell got on the same train at the Concord station.

Ford alleged that Cowell didn't attack the Wilson sisters on the train because he wouldn't have had a chance to flee quickly but instead waited to attack them when they changed trains at the MacArthur station.

Ford said, "He attacks them when they're most vulnerable. He knew what he was doing."

The sanity phase of the trial resumes Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. 

Bay City News reporter Jeff Shuttleworth contributed to this story.