Judge: Evidence against Popal strong

Despite defense claims made on Monday that many of the victims in a 2006 hit-and-run rampage were “merely grazed or clipped,” a San Francisco judge said there was enough evidence to convict Omeed Popal of 16 counts of premeditated attempted murder, among other charges.

Popal, the 30-year-old man accused of using his parent’s black Honda Pilot SUV to assault pedestrians on the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco — leaving one person paralyzed and several more with serious bodily injuries — was told to return in two weeks for an arraignment on 35 felony counts, including 16 counts of attempted murder, 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of battery on a peace officer, one count of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, and one felony count of reckless evasion from police.

His lawyer, Sandy Feinland, maintains that Popal is not guilty and he suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and auditory command hallucinations.

Popal’s preliminary hearing began on Dec. 12 and much of the evidence revealed so far between 46 witnesses and nine days of actual pretrial time focused on the accounts of police officers and emergency responders, though a handful of eyewitnesses and victims were also called to the stand. On Dec. 20, however, an interview with Popal just hours after the Aug. 29, 2006 rampage was publicly aired for the first time.

The two hours of tapes revealed a man who was calm at times and nonsensical at others, making glib confessions to Inspector Michael Mahoney.

“I was planning to just take people’s lives. Just because I wanted to,” Popal told investigators. He also offered other motives, like to “donate his heart,” or to exact revenge on people who had “flipped him off.”

Feinland pointed out Monday that while Popal was in the hospital, he also confessed to crimes he didn’t commit. Popal told Mahoney he killed his family the previous night, he stabbed a San Francisco man five years before and he had an AK-47 assault rifle in his car.

<p>Feinland never called a witness in defense of Popal, but he did assert Monday that his client never intended to kill anyone. He said that in many cases the Pilot would swerve away from victims, some of whom were lying prone on the street. He said if the man behind the wheel wanted to kill someone, he would drive at victims “head on” instead of “clipping” them.

But Prosecutor Jim Thompson said that as long as the defendant deliberately tried to kill one or a few people, then everybody else around the victim would be part of a “kill zone” in which intent is already established.

bbegin@examiner.com  

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