Judge denies change of venue for Nia Wilson’s accused killer; ‘He answered our prayers,’ mom says
Jan. 14, 2020
John Cowell accused of murder, attempted murder and lying in wait
OAKLAND — The courtroom erupted in cheers and applause as Alameda County Superior Court Judge Allan Hymer announced that the case of John Lee Cowell will remain in the county.
“God is good,” said Alicia Greyson, the mother of 18-year-old victim Nia Wilson after the hearing. “He answered our prayers.”
Wilson was killed on July 22, 2018 at the MacArthur BART station platform, her throat slashed by a man she didn’t know. Her sister, Letifah Wilson, was also attacked, but survived. The sisters were waiting for a train and returning home from a family party.
Cowell’s defense attorney, Christina Moore had filed a motion for a change of venue, arguing that the media attention surrounding the case was vast, and that her client wouldn’t get a fair and impartial trial in Alameda County. A phone survey conducted by the defense found that of the 470 Alameda County participants, 72% said they were familiar with the case and of those, 81% said they believed Cowell was probably guilty.
Moore argued Tuesday in court that the case has gotten the attention of celebrities, politicians and even NBA stars, some of who have commented that the alleged attack was race-fueled. Wilson was black and Cowell his white, but Cowell has not been charged with a hate crime. The media attention hasn’t subsided in the case, Moore. argued.
But assistant district attorney Micheal O’Connor said Tuesday that the case didn’t reach the level of attention from past cases such as Johannes Mehserle, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Oscar Grant in 2009; or even most recently of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire case.
In his ruling, Judge Hymer said in his 50 years of experience in the courts as both an attorney and judge he was confident that Alameda County jurors are fair juries. He said that even if the venue was changed, the news coverage would continue and be spread through the internet and social media, regardless.
“To that extent, a change of venue would accomplish nothing,” the judge said.
Hymer also said that even the Chauncey Bailey murder trial , the journalist who was killed in 2007, remained in Alameda County despite the extensive news coverage. He said the attention of the Cowell case “pales by comparison.” The judge said that similar to that case, he will undergo a careful jury selection process where panels of jurors are questioned in smaller groups.
Greyson, Wilson’s mother, said outside the courtroom that to her family, keeping the case in Alameda County was important and she wanted Cowell to be judged by a juror of his peers.
“It happened here,” she said. “We should at least get that satisfaction.”
Greyson lives in Sacramento and already travels a great distance to come to each hearing at the Rene C. Davidson courthouse in Oakland ; anything further could be burden on her, she said.
The first set of potential jurors are expected to be called in on Wednesday, the same day Judge James Cramer will receive a report from a psychologist who evaluated Cowell on Monday for his mental competency. Depending on what the doctor found, the case could be paused for further mental competency hearings, or continue has usual.