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Defense Requests Change Of Venue In Nia Wilson Murder Trial

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- The lawyer for a transient man charged with murder for the fatal stabbing of Nia Wilson at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland last year has asked that his trial be moved out of Alameda County because she doesn't think he can get a fair trial locally.

In a change of venue motion, attorney Christina Moore, who represents 29-year-old John Lee Cowell, wrote that "prevalent and persistent news coverage has demonstrably prejudiced potential jurors of Alameda County."

Moore said 55 percent of respondents in a survey the defense recently conducted of 470 Alameda County residents said they believe Cowell was definitely guilty or probably guilty of murder.

She said those numbers include people who indicated they have no familiarity with Cowell's case, but 81.5 percent of the 315 people who said they were familiar with the allegations against him said they believe he definitely or probably was guilty of murder.

Moore said nearly 40 percent of those people said "they did not need any additional facts before deciding the issue of guilt."

"These shocking numbers demonstrate the pervasive prejudicial effects of the media coverage of this case and the xtraordinary
circumstances that this coverage have created," Moore wrote.

Cowell is charged with murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Wilson and her sister, 26-year-old Letifah Wilson, on the platform at the MacArthur station at 9:36 p.m. on July 22, 2018.

He is also charged with a special circumstance allegation that he killed Wilson while lying in wait, a charge that would result in life in prison without parole or the death penalty if he's convicted.

"The pervasiveness of the news coverage and public interest derives, in part, from the speculative perception that this was a
racially motivated crime, despite the fact that there is no evidence in support of that perception," Moore wrote.

Moore blamed Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and celebrities such as Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry and actresses Anne Hathaway, Reese Witherspoon and Regina King for fueling what she described as "that speculative theory."

According to Moore, when Schaaf addressed the allegations against Cowell she said, "It may be time to recognize that if there is no explicit racial bias, but there is implicit racial bias, then maybe the proof should shift to the defense."

Moore said if Schaaf's proposition were accepted it "would violate the very notions of fairness that the criminal justice system is founded on."

A hearing on Moore's change of venue motion was scheduled for Jan. 6, the same day Cowell is scheduled to return to court to have a judge assigned for his trial.

The motion could further delay the long-delayed case against Cowell, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

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