OAKLAND -- A Fremont man found to be insane when he killed one person and injured 16 others during a two-city hit-and-run spree in 2006 will most likely spend the rest of his life in a state mental health hospital, a judge decided Monday.
In a prearranged deal with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, Omeed Aziz Popal, 36, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for using his Honda Pilot SUV to kill Stephen Jay Wilson as the 54-year-old walked on a sidewalk along Fremont Boulevard in the middle of the afternoon.
Popal entered the guilty plea knowing that a judge would then have to decide if he was insane at the time of the hit-and-run, a decision Popal and his attorney knew would be based on the opinions of four mental health doctors, all of whom found that Popal was insane.
As a result, Popal will be sent to a mental health hospital for life or until doctors determine his mental health is stable enough for him to be released without a risk of him hurting himself or others.
The plea deal ends a seven-year prosecution that spanned two jurisdictions and already resulted in a San Francisco judge finding that Popal was insane when he committed other hit-and-runs in that city.
The San Francisco judge's ruling ended a 36-count criminal case that was brought against Popal for injuring 16 people when he drove his SUV on a sidewalk in the city. Popal injured those pedestrians just hours after he killed Wilson in August 2006. In that case, Popal was charged with 16 counts of attempted murder and 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon.
As a result of the judge's finding, Popal was sent to Napa State Hospital for treatment. While he was there, Alameda County prosecutors pursued a murder charge against Popal for killing Wilson. A criminal grand jury issued an indictment on the case in 2009.
At the time, however, doctors at the hospital said Popal was not mentally fit to stand trial, and the proceedings were delayed until last year, when doctors determined that Popal was fit for trial because of medication he was taking.
Though Popal was mentally fit to stand trial, doctors determined that he was not mentally fit when he committed the hit-and-runs and also found that there was no guarantee that, if left alone, he would continue to take the medicine needed to keep him sane.
Deputy district attorney Tim Wellman said his office agreed to a plea deal with Popal because the end result would most likely have been the same had the case gone to trial.
Given that four doctors declared Popal insane, Wellman said it would be difficult to convince a jury that Popal was sane at the time of the hit-and-run.
Deputy public defender Tony Cheng said he recommended his client accept the deal because it was fair and proper based on the circumstances of the case.
"It's something we have been urging the district attorney to agree to from the beginning," Cheng said. "It's appropriate for this case."