Man accused of killing woman on L.A. subway is linked to earlier violence on Metro train

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 30, 2022 - - Commuters make their way up an escalator after arriving at the North Hollywood Metro station in North Hollywood on June 30, 2022. The Metro board approved the $120 million five year pilot program to add 300 hundred uniformed workers on rails and buses with the aim of making riders feel safe on the system this fall. The ambassadors will be a catch-all for the system, doing everything from helping with directions to pointing people to homeless services. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Commuters make their way up an escalator at the North Hollywood Metro station. A 45-year-old man suspected of fatally stabbing a woman Monday as she got off a train had attacked a Metro passenger once before. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

For the record:
1:04 p.m. April 24, 2024: A previous version of this story said that the stabbing took place at a North Hollywood train station. The stabbing took place at Metro’s Universal City train station in Studio City.

A 45-year-old man suspected of fatally stabbing a woman as she got off a Metro train in Studio City had attacked a passenger once before, leading a judge to order him to keep his distance from the rail system for three years.

Elliot Tramel Nowden was arrested Monday not long after a woman was found mortally wounded on the ground at the Universal Studios train platform, interim Los Angeles Police Chief Dominic Choi announced Tuesday during a Police Commission meeting.

The victim, Mirna Soza, was a 66-year-old mother of three who arrived in L.A. from Managua, Nicaragua, several years ago. She was on her way home from work as a night-shift security guard at an Original Tommy’s hamburger restaurant in North Hills when she was killed.

"This incident is extremely, extremely tragic," Choi said.

In June 2019, Nowden was arrested and charged with attacking a passenger on a Metro train in Los Angeles County. He pleaded no contest, spent five days in jail and received a 36-month probation term, according to court records.

Under the terms of his probation, he was forbidden to possess weapons or use force or threaten violence. He was also ordered to stay away from Metro trains while on probation.

But just a few weeks later, Nowden appeared before a judge on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and battery. He was sentenced to four years in state prison after pleading no contest to the assault charge, according to court records, and was given 179 days of credit for time served.

Nowden was paroled to the Department of State Hospitals on March 18, 2022, during his prison sentence, according to a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was released on parole supervision in August 2022 and discharged from parole in March 2023.

Most recently, Nowden was arrested for trespassing Jan. 31, according to LAPD Officer Norma Eisenman.

Authorities have released few details about what led to Monday's attack. Police said Soza was stabbed in the throat shortly after 5 a.m. as she got off the train. Her attacker got off at the same stop and ran away.

People in the area found the woman and called 911, authorities said. Paramedics took her to a local hospital, where she died from her injuries, according to the LAPD.

Roughly 30 minutes after the LAPD arrived at the train station, officers spotted a person matching the description of the suspect near the intersection of Ventura Boulevard and Vineland Avenue.

The man, later identified as Nowden, was detained by officers and interviewed by detectives with the Valley Bureau homicide division. Nowden was arrested on suspicion of murder after detectives reviewed the available evidence, according to the LAPD.

He is being held on bail of $2 million.

During Tuesday's Police Commission meeting, Commissioner Maria Lou Calanche sought Choi's assurance that there is adequate security on Metro during early morning hours, when riders tend to be of lower income.

Choi responded that the department's "deployment is strategic based on crime trends and needs." He did not provide details.

"It's not just a flat deployment, just to say that we're deployed, so we take a look at crime trends as we look at ridership. We look at the activity and deploy accordingly," Choi added.

He said that officers on trains, in train stations and on buses, along with the Metro system's ambassadors, "are a directed effort to increase our presence as well as the safety on these lines."

"Again, we can't be everywhere all the time," Choi said. The department tries to spread out officers and engage with riders "to create a sense of safety and address crime trends or problems as they occur immediately and swiftly."

Commissioner Vice President Rasha Gerges Shields said Monday's stabbing was "a very unfortunate death and what appears to be a very unprovoked attack on a woman."

The LAPD described Nowden as a transient. Public records show that his last known address was in Little Rock, Ark. He was a wanted fugitive in Texas in November 2008, according to court records, and was previously charged in Bexar County, Texas, with theft and narcotic possession.

Nowden is being held in a Van Nuys jail, records show.

Investigators believe there may be other who have been attacked by Nowden. Anyone with information can contact the LAPD's Operations Valley Bureau Homicide Detectives at (818) 374-9550.

Staff writers Richard Winton and James Queally contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.