SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) – Following more than a week of deliberations, jurors reached a verdict Monday in the trial of a Navy petty officer accused of driving drunk and losing control of his truck, which plummeted over the side of a transition ramp to the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and landed in Chicano Park, killing four people.
Richard Anthony Sepolio, 27, is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, DUI and reckless driving for the Oct. 15, 2016, deaths of Annamarie Contreras, 50, and Cruz Contreras, 52, a married couple from Chandler, Arizona; and Hacienda Heights residents Andre Banks, 49, and Francine Jiminez, 46. Seven other people were seriously injured.
The jury began deliberating 10 days ago in Sepolio's trial.
The verdict will be read at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the San Diego Central Courthouse to give parties involved in the case -- some of whom are from out of state -- time to travel to the hearing. Courthouses are closed tomorrow in observance of Lincoln's birthday.
Mark Mazzarella is not involved in the case, but he has been a trial lawyer for 40 years. He has also worked as a jury and trial consultant. Mazzarella said he is not surprised it took jurors as long as it did to reach a verdict. “This is like something that came out of a movie, but it was not a movie. It was real. It is not an easy call. You have 13 counts ranging from very minor to very serious.”
The verdict form is 43 pages long.
“Was his state of mind reckless? That is what I would expect the jury to dispute. Was he behaving in a way that he was showing disregard for other peoples’ lives and wellbeing, or was he just driving too fast and not behaving recklessly?”
According to Mazzerella, historically San Diego jurors have been tough on drunk drivers. He points out that even choosing a jury must have been challenging.
If a prosecutor, Mazzeralla said he would be “looking for someone who does not drink.” However, as the defense, he said “you don’t want people involved in accidents or injured in accidents.”
Who would Mazzeralla look for?
“Somebody who understands drinking and driving is not the same as driving drunk. That is a really important distinction you have to make with a jury when you have a case involving alcohol,” he said.
In Sepolio’s case, there is also the military factor. “You have a lot of Navy people. A lot of sympathy – [a] young Navy guy, it’s going to ruin his life.”
In court, Sepolio’s defense attorney urged jurors to take the emotion out of their decision and stick to the evidence, but Mazzarella said that is impossible. “You can’t put your emotions aside when you make these decisions. I don’t care how hard you try.”
Sepolio faces at least 23 years and eight months in prison if convicted of all charges.