OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A Fremont man who was arrested in 2006 after a rampage in which he ran down numerous pedestrians with his SUV, killing one of them, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Monday.
However, 36-year-old Omeed Popal won’t face any prison time because Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon found that he was not guilty because he was insane at the time of the killing.
The charge stemmed from the death of 54-year-old Stephen Jay Wilson, who was struck and killed as he walked on Fremont Boulevard, south of Ferry Lane in Fremont, late the morning of Aug. 29, 2006.
After striking Wilson, Popal allegedly headed to San Francisco, where he drove around for 15 minutes targeting pedestrians in his Honda Pilot and hitting more than a dozen of them, San Francisco police said. One victim was so badly injured she is now a quadriplegic.
Popal was arrested and was initially faced a slew of charges filed by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, including 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon.
In July 2008, a San Francisco Superior Court judge found Popal not guilty of the San Francisco crimes by reason of insanity, and he was sent to Napa State Hospital, where he still lives.
Reardon said Monday morning that he based his ruling on reports by four psychiatrists who concluded that he suffered from significant mental health issues before the incident and wasn’t sane at the time of the incident.
Reardon’s ruling means that Popal likely will spend the rest of his life in a state mental institution unless doctors determine at some future time that he’s been restored to sanity.
Popal’s attorney, Tony Cheng, said after Monday’s hearing that he is “very pleased with the resolution of the case” because it means that Popal has been found not to be criminally responsible for killing Wilson.
Cheng said Popal’s family “is very supportive of him and wants to express its appreciation to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for agreeing to this resolution.”
Prosecutor Tim Wellman said he could have asked for a jury trial on the issue of whether Popal was sane at the time he killed Wilson but he decided to submit the matter to Judge Reardon because all of the psychiatrists who examined Popal determined that he wasn’t sane at the time.
Wellman said “the random, chaotic nature of the offense” in Fremont seems to support that psychiatrists’ opinion that Popal was insane.
He said Popal appeared to pick Wilson and his victims in San Francisco “totally at random” and “didn’t seem to be targeting people for any rhyme or reason.”
Reardon ordered Popal to return to court on Aug. 16 for a hearing on where he should be placed.
Cheng said Popal will continue to receive treatment at whatever state institution in which he is placed.
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