Yesterday was the preliminary hearing for Omeed Aziz Popal, but there won’t be any answers soon. The court suspended the case indefinitely pending psychiatric review to determine if he’s competent to stand trial:
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donna Alyson Little heard Feinland’s motion and ordered that Popal, 29, return to court Friday for a hearing in which a psychiatrist will be appointed.
As he ushered Popal’s relatives out of the courtroom, Feinland told reporters that he could not talk about the case and only explained the significance of Wednesday’s hearing.
“It means the court will appoint a psychiatrist to evaluate Mr. Popal and determine if he is competent to stand trial,” he said.
Deputy District Attorney James Thompson refused to comment after Wednesday’s session, and referred all questions to a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, but she did not return phone calls Wednesday.
Popal has been charged in San Francisco with 18 counts of attempted murder, 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and single counts of assaulting a peace officer and reckless evasion of a police officer.
In Fremont, he faces charges of murder and use of a deadly weapon (his vehicle) during the commission of the crime, both in connection with the hit-and-run on Fremont Boulevard near Decoto Road, where Wilson was killed.
What’s a little more interesting is a claim coming from Susan Rajic, the women whom Popal paralyzed during his rampage:
Meanwhile, spokespersons for a woman who was paralyzed as a result of the Aug. 29 spree — which killed a man in Fremont and then hurt 18 others in San Francisco — said the victim nearly was struck by Popal’s vehicle a week before the incident.
Speaking to reporters after a brief hearing in which Popal was slated to enter a plea, attorney Debra Bogaards and legal guardian Keith Stoneking said 43-year-old victim Susan Rajic recently identified Popal as the driver of a vehicle that almost hit her a week before the incident.
“I questioned her three or four times and she definitely said it was him a week prior,” Stoneking said. Rajic was walking outside her Sacramento Street apartment building, about a block from the Jewish Community Center, when she was almost hit, Stoneking said.
“She just thought it was another crazy driver in San Francisco,” he said.
Rajic’s claim raises a lot of questions. The most obvious, of course, is whether she’s retrofitting her memory. We all know that memories are extremely fallible, and people fill in past gaps with information they glean in the present. If she’s correct, however, that opens two possibilities. Either it means that Popal was out to get Rajic, which seems bizarre given that they had no connection whatsoever, or it means that Popal’s driving degraded significantly whenever he was nearing the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. If that last is true, jihad may be back on the table.
By the way, even if Popal is insane, that doesn’t mean jihad is off the table. First of all, crazy people’s delusions tend to reflect the world around them. Up until the modern era, delusional people thought they were in league with the Devil. In the 1950s, delusional people got instructions from martians. It would be unsurprising that Popal, if he were indeed clinically delusional, tapped into the jihadist rage swirling around the world.
Second of all, to say someone is insane doesn’t free them from the defending their conduct. Conversationally speaking, I personally think it’s insane to murder people in cold blood. That is, if I hear about someone who was not in a combat situation or was not acting to protect his life or the lives of those around him, but who nevertheless decided to kill, I might remark, “He’s crazy.” However, we all know that doing behavior that’s outside the norm, including horrific, brutal, violent behavior, does not mean that one is legally insane.
The legal standard for craziness (the famed M’Naughten insanity standard) is whether the perpetrator could not distinguish right from wrong at the time he committed the crime. Since our western norms demand “criminal intent” for a criminal conviction, the defendant’s failure to understand that he is committing a wrongful act prevents conviction. This means a person can be crazy and still be guilty, because he knows that it is wrong to act on his delusional beliefs.
In other words, Popal could have been convinced that the San Francisco JCC, and all roads leading there, were the home for an international Zionist conspiracy that needed to be wiped out. That thought would be delusional. However, if he also knew that it was not his responsibility to clean up this dangerous site, but he nevertheless did so, and he intended to kill people in the process, while he’s still delusional, he’s not legally insane. And he’s a jihadist. Alternatively, if he thought he was God’s angel sent on wings of Gold to turn San Francisco into a Muslim Paradise, and that he had no control over his actions, one could argue that he was legally insane on the M’Naugten scale. Only time will tell where Popal falls in the scheme of things.
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