Man enters insanity plea for notorious 2019 Sunnyvale crash

SAN JOSE — The man charged with running over a group of pedestrians at a Sunnyvale intersection two years ago has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, triggering a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation his attorney says will prove that mental illness and PTSD factored into the collision that injured several people, including a young girl who was in a lengthy coma.

Isaiah Joel Peoples, 36, formally entered the plea last week in a San Jose courtroom and remains in Santa Clara County jail custody without bail.

Peoples was charged in April 2019 with eight counts of attempted murder for each person he hit with his car. He was later charged with hate-crime enhancements on prosecutors’ allegations that he targeted some of the victims because he thought they were Muslim, when they were of Indian descent and Hindu faith.

He did not speak at the July 16 court hearing where the insanity plea was entered before Judge Robert Hawk. Peoples’ attorney, Chuck Smith, told the judge his client understood the ramifications of the plea, namely that if it were to be accepted by the court, Peoples could be in a state hospital for the rest of his life.

Both in court and after the hearing, Smith said he has tried in vain to have Peoples’ mental competence assessed. He had previously argued that Peoples’ was suffering from mental illness, primarily post-traumatic stress from serving the Army in the mid-2000s, which included a stint in Iraq.

“They might find he has brain damage … This was not an intentional act,” Smith said, referring to the car crash. “Something is wrong with him.”

Deputy District Attorney Carlos Vega, who is prosecuting Peoples, alluded to the high legal standard that has to be met for an insanity plea to hold up, and contended that Peoples clearly falls short of it.

“Mr. Peoples’ actions are definitely irrational, I’ll give you that,” Vega said. “But insanity? The evidence is overwhelming that he’s not, and we plan to prove that in court.”

On April 23, 2019, Peoples allegedly drove his Toyota Corolla into a group of pedestrians and bicyclists in the crosswalk at El Camino Real and Sunnyvale Avenue, then crashed the car into a tree. He was described in multiple witness accounts as saying, “I love you, Jesus,” “Thank you Jesus,” and “Praise Jesus,” or words to that effect, after emerging from the vehicle.

Investigators say Peoples was delivering food to a Bible study group — his father was a nondenominational pastor — before the crash occurred. Smith has objected to the assertion that his client was Islamophobic, saying that Peoples has numerous Muslim relatives, and that in his Army service in Iraq, Peoples helped rebuild Muslim communities.

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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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