OAKLAND, California. Prosecutors will seek a life sentence against a parolee charged with murder and attempted murder in the unprovoked stabbing of two young women on a subway station, a Northern district of California lawyer said Wednesday.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’malley said authorities are continuing to investigate, or John Cowell, 27, was motivated by racial hate when he killed Nia Wilson, 18, and wounded her sister, Letifah Wilson, 26.
The women are black and he is white.
That went with the victims, family, this is the worst time in their lives, O’malley said.
“My heart is broken for them and also for our society,” she said after the hearing. “It has shaken the community, it has shaken all of us.”
Cowell has no plea in a brief hearing and his arraignment was held over until the following month. The courtroom was packed with about two dozen members of Wilson’s family. A woman complained after the hearing was over.
The young woman’s death on Sunday prompted a vigil that later swelled into a crowd of about a thousand who marched in downtown Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco.
A panel hidden Cowell out of sight, but in the courtroom artist Vicki Ellen Behringer could see him. He looked down for most of the hearing, she said, and at one point, he had a slight smile. Cowell had a tattoo on his chest and a bandage on his forehead, ” she said.
Cowell’s lawyer, George Arroyo, slipped out the back door after the hearing and not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cowell was arrested Monday night on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train about a dozen miles (19 kilometers) from the MacArthur station where the women were attacked.
The authorities have not released a motive for the attack, but Cowell’s family told KRON-TV in a statement that he suffers from a mental illness “the biggest part of his life.” Cowell was in and out of the jail without receiving proper treatment, the family had.
Nia’s father, Ansar Mohammed, said on Wednesday that he thought the claim of mental illness “an excuse” and he felt his daughters were attacked because they are black.
“I think it’s an excuse. I hate to say that, but, you know, why would you pick two black girls?” Mohammed said at the court for Cowell’s appearance.
Mohammed said the Nia was planning to graduate “with high distinction” from Dewey Academy in December and planned to go to the army.
“I need to make a plan for her graduation, not her funeral,” he said.
Data indicate Cowell recently served two years for second-degree robbery and also had convictions for battery, under the influence of a controlled substance and assault with a deadly weapon, the East Bay Times reported.
Cowell was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, the family said.
He was released from the Atascadero state mental hospital in May, but “there was no place for him to go with most of the mental institutions being shut down,” the family said, adding that “the system has failed in this case.”
“We had to get a restraining order in one time, and for our own protection. He was living on the street, without the proper treatment,” the family said. “This is in no way an excuse for this senseless and cruel attack.”
Cowell’s mother, Anne Cowell, serves a three-year jail sentence for setting fire to a temporary housing shelter in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Vicky Waters said Cowell had under active parole supervision, and they had no arrest warrant.”
She said that the agency is conducting a review and also the cooperation with BART and the local police in their investigation.
Cowell’s family said that the “broken heart” and mourn for the victims’ family.
“This terrible tragedy never should have happened,” the statement said.
BART police said they are also investigating the death of a homeless man who was attacked at a metro station, the day before the Nia Wilson was fatal to a transfer of the platform.
BART police late Tuesday released images of a man who allegedly struck 47-year-old Don Stevens at the Bay Fair station on Saturday.
The suspect hit Stevens in the side of the head with a closed fist. Stevens fell and hit his head and died in a hospital Sunday, they said.
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.
Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com