Number of witnesses pushes Popal trial back

The magnitude of Omeed Aziz Popal’s alleged crime — a transbay rampage in an SUV that killed a man and left others with life-altering injuries last year — was on public display Wednesday when thecourtroom assigned for Popal’s case was

simply not big enough.

Due to the large number of police witnesses — a result of the wide swath Popal cut through The City — as well as the more than 20 Popal family members, the case was continued until next Tuesday, when it could be held in a larger courtroom, attorneys said.

Popal is being held in psychiatric observation in jail after the events of Aug. 29, 2006. On that date, Popal is said to have driven a black Honda Pilot from Fremont, where he allegedly hit and killed a man, into The City, where police say he went on a half-hour pedestrian ramming spree with his car.

There were 18 victims, including a woman whose spine was crushed. Popal has been charged with 18 counts of attempted murder associated with the series of attacks that ranged from the Civic Center to Pacific Heights and Western Addition.

Assistant District Attorney James Thompson said that because of the high number of witnesses, a larger courtroom was needed.

The now 30-year-old Popal suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and auditory command hallucinations, according to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. Six months before the Aug. 29 event, Popal allegedly suffered two psychiatric breakdowns.

In court Wednesday, Popal — still with short hair and a mustache — arrived without handcuffs and smiled at the multiple generations of his family waving at him as he walked in. As the court discussed his case, he stood shifting his weight in the orange jail-issued sweats.

Popal’s attorney, Sandy Feinland, a public defender, said the family’s support “attests to [Popal’s] character,” noting that they have turned out at nearly all of Popal’s court dates.

Feinland could not comment on his client’s current condition because of medical privacy issues.

Popal’s father refused to comment on his son’s condition.

dsmith@examiner.com

dsmith@examiner.com

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