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Alleged BART Attacker Has Violent Criminal Past, Records Show

“I wish he would get the death penalty for what he did to that poor little girl,” one of John Lee Cowell's past victims said. 

By Stefan Lembo-Stolba

The man accused of stabbing two sisters in the neck, killing one, at a California train station has a long and troubling criminal history, records show.

John Lee Cowell was arrested on Monday and has been charged with first degree murder in the knife attack at an Oakland train station that left 18-year-old Nia Wilson dead and her sister Letifah, 26, wounded, Oxygen.com reported.

The Wilsons are black. Cowell is white.

Court records show that Cowell, a 27-year-old parolee, has a long criminal history with multiple arrests and several violent charges, the New York Post reports.

When he was 18, Cowell was arrested for allegedly beating a man and punching his daughter outside the family’s home in California, the Post reported.

The man, Shane Glick, had reportedly confronted Cowell after his home had been repeatedly burglarized. After the confrontation, Cowell allegedly began to beat Glick and even punched the man’s daughter as she came out to see what was going on.

“I wish he would get the death penalty for what he did to that poor little girl,” Glick told the San Francisco Chronicle, referring to Wilson. “She didn’t deserve it.”

Cowell was also arrested for battery in 2013, and two years later he served 90 days in jail after police found him high on methamphetamine.

In 2016, he was arrested again for petty theft, illegal possession of tear gas, possession of a smoking device and drug possession, according to the Post.

Those charges were later dismissed, however, following another arrest for allegedly using a fake gun and box cutter to threaten a security guard who caught him stealing.

That same year Cowell was also accused of making death threats to a hospital employee.

“Unfortunately, John has been suffering from mental illness most of his life,” Cowell’s family said in a statement to KRON4 in Oakland. “He has been in & out of Jail & has not had the proper treatment.”

Before the alleged attack on Sunday, Cowell had only just been released from prison in May. He had been given a two-year sentence, but had for some reason been released early, according to the Post.

“The system has failed in this instance,” Cowell’s family said to KRON4.

Online, there has been a public outcry condemning the system that allowed Cowell to walk free with his past criminal behavior.

“John Lee Cowell has a record that should have prevented him from being at MacArthur BART last night,” one Twitter user wrote. “He should have been in jail”

The same user went on the say: “A black man with any ONE of these charges would be doing life or would have been killed.”

After the attack, public officials came out the condemn the attack’s possible racial motivation.

“The fact that his victims were both young African-American women stirs deep pain and palpable fear in all of us who acknowledge the reality that our country still suffers from a tragic and deeply racist history,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaff said.

Police have not officially determined that race played a role in the attack, and it is unclear if the district attorney will charge Cowell with a hate crime.

He is being held in Santa Rita Jail and the investigation is ongoing.

[Photo: BART Police] 

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