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Popal enters not guilty plea

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The man accused of a hit-and-run rampage through San Francisco that left 18 people injured pleaded not guilty to all charges in a San Francisco courtroom Tuesday.

Omeed Aziz Popal uttered only the word “yes,” when a judge asked him if he pleaded not guilty and if he denied all charges. Popal’s court-appointed attorney, Sandy Feinland, said after the hearing that Popal was not guilty by reason of insanity.

On Aug. 29, Popal, 29, allegedly drove his Honda Pilot sport utility vehicle on a winding course through San Francisco, intentionally hitting pedestrians in crosswalks, on sidewalks and in the street.

Police say 18 people were injured before they boxed him in with cars at the intersection of Spruce and California streets, where he peacefully surrendered.

Popal, of Fremont, faces 18 counts of attempted murder, 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of battery on a police officer causing injury and one count of reckless evasion of police. He also faces a murder charge in Alameda County for allegedly running down and killing 54-year-old Stephen J. Wilson in Fremont before coming to San Francisco.

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“We’re going to show at trial that he was not guilty by reason of insanity,” Feinland said outside the courtroom Tuesday. “It was well-documented that he was off his [psychiatric] medication and that he was hearing voices.”

On Nov. 22, a Superior Court judge declared Popal competent to stand trial after Popal underwent an array of court-ordered psychological tests.

Popal’s family and Feinland have consistently stated that he suffered from mental issues, saying he heard voices, believed people were trying to kill him and once falsely confessed to his boss that he’d stabbed someone.

On Friday, Popal attempted suicide in a holding cell at the county jail, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department reported. He is now under psychiatric observation at San Francisco General Hospital.

Susan Rajic, a victim of the hit-and-run spree who was rendered a quadriplegic, sent her cousin Natalie Rajic to the hearing on her behalf.

“She [Susan] said whatever happens to him, [Popal] is not going to give her the justice she deserves. She was sentenced to a life in prison by her own body,” Natalie Rajic said.

Popal faces life in prison for the charges against him in San Francisco. After those charges are prosecuted, he will face the murder charge in Alameda. He is due back in court Jan. 9 for a date setting and discovery hearing.

amartin@examiner.com

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