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Judge Took Verdict Out of Jury’s Hands Due to Coronavirus, Decided Convicted Murderer Was Sane


The coronavirus outbreak has done a number on the judicial system. Courts across the country have postponed hearings and trials. Even the Supreme Court has postponed oral arguments. But then there’s what happened in the murder trial of John Lee Cowell, 29.

A jury in Alameda County, California found Cowell guilty on Tuesday of murdering Nia Wilson, 18. The next step was for jurors to decide whether or not Cowell was sane. The thing is, they didn’t get to do that.

Judge Allan Hymer took the decision out of their hands, and reached the verdict himself. The defense complained about this development.

Cowell stabbed Wilson to death, and also tried to kill her sister in 2018 at a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station, authorities said. This wasn’t charged as a hate crime, but the victims’ family has argued that this was a racist attack. Wilson was black. Cowell, who is white, said he had been punched by a black woman the week before the incident, and the prosecutor asked if he was trying to pick a fight with another black woman after the stabbing, according to The Guardian.

The defendant was also convicted of attempted murder in the stabbing of Wilson’s sister. Prosecutors said that Cowell followed them from the platform onto a train to another station, then attacked them when they were transferring to another train.

The defense tried to argue the suspect was not guilty by reason of insanity, and they attributed the act to mental illness. The trial case required verdicts from two phases: a guilty phase, and a sanity phase.

The defendant had allegedly said at one point that he wanted to appear crazy, however.

Cowell now faces a life sentence.

[Mugshot via Alameda County Sheriff’s Office]

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