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Omeed A. Popal

OAKLAND -- A Fremont man once found mentally incompetent to stand trial for murder in connection with a 2006 hit-and-run spree that killed one and injured 18 others can now understand criminal court proceedings, doctors have declared.

The doctors' findings mean Omeed Aziz Popal, 35, must now stand trial on a charge of murder for allegedly using his Honda Pilot SUV to run over and kill Stephen Jay Wilson, 54, as Wilson walked along Fremont Boulevard just north of Decoto Road in 2006.

Less than an hour after allegedly running over Wilson, Popal is accused of driving to San Francisco where he targeted 18 people as they walked on sidewalks throughout the city.

Popal was originally charged with more than three dozen felonies in connection to his hit-and-runs in San Francisco but that case was settled in 2008 when a San Francisco County judge found that Popal was insane at the time of the crimes.

That settlement sent Popal to Napa State Hospital where he underwent psychiatric treatment. While he was at Napa, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office sought and won a grand jury indictment against Popal for murder.

Popal was removed from Napa in 2010 and sent to Alameda County where a murder trial was set to begin but he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Over the past two years, Popal has been treated by psychiatrists at Napa who this week sent a report to Alameda County saying Popal was now mentally competent.

However, those doctors said any trial against Popal must be speedy to ensure he stays mentally fit throughout the proceedings.

Despite Popal's current mental fitness, his future, and that of a murder trial against him, remain in doubt.

Popal's attorney, deputy public defender Tony Cheng, can challenge the doctors' opinion on Popal mental status. If Cheng was successful, Popal would most likely return to Napa State Hospital.

If Cheng decides to challenge the ruling and loses, Popal can then plead not guilty by reason of insanity and a jury will then ultimately decide if he should be sent to Napa or prison.

Cheng declined to comment about the case Thursday.

Deputy district attorney Tim Wellman also declined to comment.

Popal is scheduled to return to court next week when Cheng will decide if he wants to challenge the doctors' opinion.