Crime - Sacto 911

He was convicted of hitting bicyclists with an SUV. But was he sane?

Jonathan Jackson’s bike lies on the road after the 17-year-old cyclist was struck by an SUV on June 30, 2015.
Jonathan Jackson’s bike lies on the road after the 17-year-old cyclist was struck by an SUV on June 30, 2015. Donald Dumaine

A man who rammed a stolen vehicle into bicyclists on a popular rural cycling route near West Sacramento was found not guilty of attempted murder and drug charges but was convicted of felony hit and run and other crimes Wednesday in Yolo Superior Court.

Alamar Cyril Houston faced 19 charges in the trial connected to the June 30, 2015, incident along South River Road between West Sacramento and Clarksburg. Jurors also convicted Houston of assault with a deadly weapon.

Jurors struggled for days over whether methamphetamine or mental illness was behind the random attacks that left one teen, Taariq Jensen, critically injured. The same panel will hear testimony Thursday to determine whether Houston was legally sane at the time of the incident. Houston entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

Family members of the bicyclists struck on South River Road sat in the gallery after the courtroom cleared, talking quietly and absorbing the verdicts with a mix of frustration, anger and disbelief.

“I don’t see how you take a car going 50 mph and try to hit them,” said Shikha Lal-Jensen. Lal-Jensen and Terry Jensen are Taariq Jensen’s parents. “When you run somebody over with a car, what are you trying to do?”

Now 17, the Jensens’ son continues to heal from a brain injury and is studying at Sacramento City College, but, “he struggles with life every day,” his mother said.

“He’s back in school, but he was derailed,” Terry Jensen said. “If my son would’ve died, what would (the jury) have said? It’s really just wrong.”

Yolo County district attorney’s prosecutors alleged Houston was in a drug-fueled rage when he shoved a bicyclist off the road from behind the wheel of a sport-utility vehicle stolen earlier from a Sacramento International Airport rental lot, then slammed the vehicle into Jensen and another teenage cyclist. Both were training for an upcoming race.

Authorities said Houston later assaulted a clerk at a West Sacramento drugstore before his capture by police in downtown Sacramento.

But Houston’s attorney attributed the violent spree to a psychotic break, describing Houston at trial as a man divorced from reality and citing drug tests after his arrest that showed no signs of methamphetamine or other narcotics.

Jurors Thursday will hear a handful of witnesses and must decide whether Houston was capable of knowing or understanding the consequences of his actions when he committed the crimes.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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