Omeed A. Popal
Omeed A. Popal

OAKLAND — Hit-and-run suspect Omeed Aziz Popal pleaded not guilty Monday to a murder charge, although his attorney said Popal may enter an insanity plea in the future.

The 32-year-old Fremont man has been charged in connection with the Aug. 29, 2006, hit-and-run spree that killed a pedestrian in Fremont and wounded more than a dozen others in San Francisco.

Popal is slated to return Sept. 9 to the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, at which time Judge Morris Jacobson intends to set a trial date.

"This thing is going on three years, I want to reach a resolution soon," Jacobson said during Monday's hearing.

Deputy Public Defender Tony Cheng said he needs to receive additional evidence from prosecutors before he can proceed with defending his client.

He also noted that in September, Popal may change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity, which would delay the setting of a trial date.

"We are exploring that," Cheng said after the hearing.

Popal, who suffers from schizophrenia, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in San Francisco in 2008 after facing more than 30 felony charges in connection with all the hit-and-run incidents there.

He went through nearly two years of court proceedings — including a lengthy preliminary hearing — before a judge levied her ruling. The judge then sentenced Popal to a term at Napa State mental hospital.

But in Alameda County, Popal still faced a murder charge in relation to the death of Stephen Jay Wilson, the 54-year-old Fremont man who was the first victim of the spree.

In April, an Alameda County grand jury indicted Popal on a murder charge, and soon thereafter sheriff's deputies took custody of him. In May and June, Popal appeared in court, but his arraignment was postponed both times. When he appeared Monday with his attorney, Popal waived formal reading of his charges and his rights to a speedy trial.

His mental state has been an issue in the case almost since the time of his arrest, partly because of statements he made to authorities.

In an audio-recorded interview with police, Popal told investigators he woke up on the day of the spree with the intention of killing people for several reasons, including the fact that he was upset with his father and thought strangers had treated him badly.

During that interview, Popal also told officers he once stabbed a man to death in San Francisco and dumped his body in the Bay, a claim San Francisco authorities have not substantiated.

Reach Ben Aguirre Jr. at 510-353-7011. Read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat and follow his Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/benaguirrejr.