A San Francisco judge ruled Monday that John Lee Cowell was sane when he fatally stabbed Nia Wilson, 18, on a BART train station platform in 2018.
Judge Allen Hymer handed down the second verdict this week so jurors could return home following a shelter-in-place order for the city amid the coronavirus outbreak, local station KRON 4 reported. A jury found Cowell guilty of first-degree murder in the killing last week.
Cowell, 29, a homeless man with a history of violence and mental illness, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, leaving jurors to determine whether he was in his right mind when he attacked Wilson and her older sister, Letifah.
The young women were changing trains at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland on July 22, 2018, when the defendant attacked the pair from behind with a knife. Nia bled out on the platform, and Letifah was stabbed in the neck but survived.
In addition to the murder conviction, jurors also found Cowell guilty of attempted murder and convicted him on special circumstances of “lying in wait.” Prosecutors said he watched and waited for the sisters, following them onto a train from Concord to Oakland before stabbing them on the platform.
“The evidence only shows that this was planned,” Alameda County prosecutor Butch Ford argued at trial, pointing to surveillance video from the train ride and the attack itself.
“Evil exists in this world and causes terrible things to happen to innocent people,” he added. “All those things came together at the MacArthur BART station. Evil in this case has a name, and its name is John Lee Cowell.”
Monday’s hearing was cut short due to the coronavirus crisis, with Hymer issuing a directed verdict in the case, KTVU reports. He made the decision early in light of the fact that four of the 12 jurors are over the age of 65 and are at increased risk if they contracting the virus.
On Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged residents in that age bracket to self-isolate at home and avoid congregating in large groups.
Since Cowell has been ruled sane, he could spend life in prison without the possibility of parole when sentenced. A sentencing hearing has been set for April 14.