Without warning death fell on them from above. First there was an ear shattering bang, screeching, and then a pickup truck fell out of the sky, twisting midair as if in a movie, before nosediving into a vendor’s booth, crushing all life beneath it. It was 3:33 p.m. in the afternoon of October 15, 2016, and Richard Sepolio, a 24-year-old Navy petty officer had just crashed his GMC truck off the Coronado Bridge into Chicano Park, where thousands of people were enjoying a festive La Raza motorcycle rally on a beautiful San Diego day. One woman felt air pulling her backwards, her body seemingly paralyzed, and believed she was dying. Another was whirled around uncontrollably before ending up under a park bench. As the injured laid helpless among the panicked chaos, first responders were summoned from all sectors. Men on the ground raced to lift the truck, but nothing could save AnnaMarie and Cruz Contreras, Francine Jimenez, and Andre Banks. Their beautiful lives had ended.
Annamarie, 50, and her husband Cruz, 52, were known as “angels on this earth,” not only caring for their own three daughters but also taking in countless foster care children, mentoring troubled youth, and providing endless love to anyone in need. Francine Jimenez, 46, was described as always happy and was the light of her four children’s lives. Andre Banks, 49, was a man so loving, he never forgot to send a text message to his goddaughter each day. How could such goodness be gone?
And the devastation did not end there as seven other people were seriously injured, some even suffering life-threatening injuries. Jesse Gonzalez, Olivia Magana, Victor Garcia, Annette Trujillo, Julie De La Torre, Ruben Carillo, and Flora Gonzalez would eventually go home to their families, but the trauma of that day remained.
How could this have happened?
Richard Sepolio’s Trial Begins
On January 14, 2019, Richard Sepolio sat as the defendant in a courtroom overflowing with media, family members, and the multitudes from that horrible day. The charges were serious: 13 felonies, including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, and reckless driving resulting in serious injury. At his side was high-profile attorney Paul Pfingst, whose fees were paid in part through fundraising efforts of Sepolio’s small Texas hometown. Prosecuting the case was Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright, a specialist in under the influence cases.
The jury would have to determine whether Richard Sepolio was legally under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash. Could he explain why he sent a text the morning of the crash saying he wanted to “get white girl wasted,” why he was driving 81 to 87 miles per hour on a transition ramp unto the bridge, and whether he was arguing with his girlfriend on his cell phone?
Nothing could ease the pain though for those so deeply affected, and within minutes of the prosecutor’s opening, muffled sobs abounded. “They arrived on motorcycles, and left in body bags” said Bright, before turning to devastating facts of crushed skulls and eviscerated injuries. Immediately two young women left the courtroom, unable to stop their tears or bear any more raw details. Outside of court, they revealed they lost both their parents, AnnaMarie and Cruz Contreras, and said every day was a struggle to go on.
This heartbreak along with burning anger consistently permeated the air, long before the trial and throughout. The shattered families came in mass, as did individuals who had been present that day in Chicano Park. Many expressed outrage Richard Sepolio was not taking responsibility for his actions, instead dismissing the fact most crucial to them: he had been drinking. During one press conference, when his attorney called it “a tragic car accident,” an infuriated bystander could take it no longer. Shouting out to the female newscaster interviewing attorney Pfingst, as if somehow she was on his side, his sentiments were clear, “And he was drinking! Lying bitch!”
With emotions running so high, the trial was ruled with tight security. Richard Sepolio had received threats and his family harassed. His wife, steadfast in her support, came faithfully to the trial and at times with their new baby, whom Richard had fathered while out on bond. Another source of anger for some, who were incensed Richard Sepolio could create life, while destroying their own. Uniformed sheriff deputies, numbering 25 at one hearing, kept the sides segregated, leading groups separately to avoid any potential confrontation.
A Brunch at Eclipse Chocolate and Consumption of Alcohol
Stephanie Ruiz, a fellow Navy officer invited Richard Sepolio to brunch at Eclipse Chocolate to thank him for taking care of her car while she was on assignment. At the brunch, Sepolio drank an alcoholic cider and some wine, though it was unclear how much wine he actually drank. Sepolio testified he had “a glass of wine” from the bottle they ordered. Ruiz testified she drank almost all of the wine, but previously told an officer Sepolio had two glasses of wine, though she was not certain as the waitress had poured it. The duo enjoyed brunch for almost two hours before taking Uber to Ruiz’s home, where they played with her dogs for about an hour. Sepolio then decided to leave as he had phone calls to make. When asked if she saw any signs of intoxication, Ruiz answered, “No, not at all.”
Richard Sepolio’s Testimony About The Crash
Richard Sepolio took the witness stand wearing a navy blue suit with an American flag pinned to his lapel. After talking about growing up in Hamilton, Texas and playing football and running track, he described joining the Navy in June of 2014, where he became an aviation technician working on helicopters. At last, attorney Pfingst moved to the time of the crash.
Sepolio testified he called his girlfriend, Kelly, while leaving Ruiz’s house, and placed the phone in his console on speaker. Although he told an officer after the crash that he was arguing with Kelly, at trial he insisted there had been no argument. On cross examination, prosecutor Bright read a succession of text messages sent from Kelly after the call, in which she stated four times she was sorry, wrote “please don’t hate me,” and asked for another chance. Bright would later tell the jury, “there was something going on,” and also contended Sepolio did not conclude the call before entering the connector road to the bridge as he claimed, but was on the phone much longer, as the first 911 call came 44 seconds after the call ended.
Addressing his speed, Sepolio testified he sped up solely to pass a slower moving vehicle to access the left lane, which from his 90 crossings of the Coronado Bridge was the safest lane for merging purposes. When the driver sped up, blocking his path, he also sped up until he believed he had room to merge. When he realized he did not, he overcorrected, and lost control of his truck. The next thing he remembered was being on top of the barrier, looking down. He did not remember going over or hitting the ground. He came to when the vehicle moved to the side. When asked if he was under the influence, making unsafe lane changes, or driving too fast, he answered, “No sir” to each question.
On cross-examination, Bright immediately brought up his text to Ruiz on the morning of the crash in which he wrote he wanted to “get white girl wasted.” When she asked him what he meant, Sepolio answered, “I wanted to go out to have a good time.” The “white girl wasted” text was a fact pounded home to the jury time and time again and referenced by many of the victim’s families of Sepolio’s intent that day.
The Two Blood Tests: Was Sepolio Under the Legal Limit of .08?
Sepolio suffered serious injuries in the crash, including a subdural hematoma, fractured vertebrae, spleen, and contused lungs. He was taken to a trauma center and in the course of treatment, his blood was drawn. The hospital converted this blood to plasma blood, and it tested at .08. As plasma blood tests higher than whole blood, and whole blood is required under California’s DUI law, a calculation converting plasma to whole blood was performed. The result was .06 and .07. A second blood draw was done by a phlebotomist two and a half hours after the crash. The result was .04. However, determining Sepolio’s blood alcohol content at the actual time of the crash was the paramount issue.
The prosecution called a criminalist to do a retrograde extrapolation. Critical to the calculation was defining the absorption rate and rate of elimination. As acceptable ranges exist, the calculation varied widely depending upon the numbers submitted. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution’s expert calculated .08 and .09. At trial, she used a wider elimination rate, and the result was .06 to .11. Sepolio’s attorney requested calculations on the stand, and she reported numbers of .05 and .06. So, what number was the jury to accept? In closing argument, the defense invoked the circumstantial evidence rule, which provides where there are two reasonable conclusions, and one points to innocence while the other points to guilt, the jury must accept the one that points to innocence. The jury was therefore required to accept Richard Sepolio was under .08 and thus, under the legal limit declared Pfingst.
Further complicating the blood issue, was the destruction of the hospital blood. An officer took the hospital blood by subpoena and delivered it to the crime lab. For unknown reasons, it was not tested, instead sitting for a year until it was moved to a non-climate-controlled shed where the blood became so degraded it was unusable. The defense never had the opportunity to test the blood, which was the first blood taken of Sepolio, and attorney Pfingst told the jury the prosecution’s expert acknowledged it could have been below .08. This point was hammered home to the jury with a fired up Pfingst shouting in his closing, “You don’t get to destroy critical evidence!”
A Conviction Could Still Be Found Even if Sepolio Was Not .08
Under California DUI statutes, Sepolio could still be convicted if he drove under the influence of alcohol for purposes of driving even if the legal limit of .08 was not met. The statute does not provide a specific number and once again the experts battled it out. The prosecution’s expert testified everyone is impaired for purposes of driving at .05. On cross-examination, she conceded there was not a study or paper which specifically held this opinion. The defense’s expert disagreed with the .05 assertion and said it was not the consensus. A specific number could not be given as impairment varied from person to person he pronounced. Neither could traditional signs of impairment be used in this case contended the defense as what appeared as impairment may have been the result of Sepolio’s injuries. Bright pointed out signs of impairment existed before the crash.
The defense further pointed to the blood alcohol content (BAC) presumptions, where if testing is conducted within three hours of the incident, and the BAC is less than .05, it is presumed one is not under the influence of alcohol. Prosecutor Bright argued it was a rebuttable presumption, and it was clearly rebutted in this case.
The Accident Investigation and the Issue of Whether a Proper Bridge Barrier Could Have Prevented the Crash
Many days were spent on the investigation done by MAIT, which stands for multi-disciplinary accident investigation team. Overall, everyone agreed the MAIT team did a good job. An accident reconstruction investigator, California Highway Patrol Officer Justin Snider, testified to the speed of Sepolio’s vehicle. He conducted a critical speed analysis and said the point where Sepolio’s truck began to deposit physical evidence, the truck was going 87 mph and hit the barrier at 63 mph. Sepolio did brake before hitting the left barrier.
But could the truck have been stopped from going over the bridge? The defense believed it could and attorney Pfingst presented evidence the righthand bridge barrier was not built as designed. He told the jury, “the evidence will show it was a disgrace.” The GM barriers were discontinued as in crash testing cars would be lifted upon impact. However, the GM barriers remained on the Coronado Bridge. Further the design plans called for metal railings to be installed and for some portions of the bridge they were. Yet no guardrails were ever installed at the point Sepolio’s truck went over. Could proper barriers and railings have stopped this tragedy? The defense argued they could. Eventually, lawsuits against Caltrans were filed over this issue. Prosecutor Bright did not agree and told the jury the bridge design was not the cause, neither were the barriers, other drivers, or any problems with Sepolio’s truck. Sepolio alone was the cause as he was “intoxicated, impatient, and irritated” she stated firmly.
After almost six days of deliberation, the jury announced they had reached a verdict. With the long deliberation, many family members had returned to their home state, so announcement of the verdict was held for families to travel back to San Diego. On February 13, 2019, tension filled the air. Family members arrived and gathered in a huge prayer circle outside the courtroom. Finally, Richard Sepolio walked down the court hallway, dressed as sharply as any attorney, yet stoic, knowing his fate would soon be declared.
Judge Charles Rogers took the bench and stated there would be no outburst or disturbance and the bailiffs would “see fit to preserve the peace.” He understood the feeling of loss and anguish he continued. He went on to praise the effort of the jury in their long deliberations. As the jury filed in, I glanced across the aisle to Sepolio’s wife, who was clutching their baby tightly and looked ready to cry. Then the long wait began. The jury verdict forms, numbering a record 43 pages, were handed to Judge Rogers. He seemed to take forever to review them, and the courtroom was perfectly silent. At last, he began to read them aloud.
The jury found Richard Sepolio guilty of four counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence and one count of felony driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury to seven people. The jury did not find him guilty of the most serious charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and reckless driving causing injury. By finding ordinary negligence, rather than gross negligence, Sepolio’s prison time would be greatly reduced. A maximum sentence for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is 10 years, whereas for ordinary negligence, the maximum is four. Sepolio was also acquitted on the .08 charge and all seven of the charges of reckless driving.
At the press conference following the verdict, one juror agreed to speak to the media. Juror #9 said it was a “terrible tragedy.” He said the jury believed alcohol played an impact and they wanted to make a statement. In regard to all the numbers given, he said it was hard to level the numbers, but they were disappointed with how the police handled the blood. He went on to explain the difficult decision centered around whether the alcohol rose to the level of impairment.
Determining the Sentence and Problems with California DUI Laws
Determining the sentence in this case was not an easy endeavor and a separate hearing was held to analyze California sentencing laws, argue the issues, and walk through possible scenarios. It was complicated due to the number of convictions and intersecting laws. I will not go into the calculations, as the analysis alone could be a full article. However, fundamental problems with California’s DUI laws were raised. Why is it that a person who kills another person while driving under the influence may receive less time than a person who drives under the influence but only causes great bodily injury? The answer lies in the classification of these crimes, their designation as either a “serious felony” or “violent felony.” The sentencing guidelines control how each class is punished.
Surprisingly, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is not listed as a “violent felony” even though loss of life has resulted. Instead it is classified as a “serious felony.” Likewise, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence is a “serious felony” and the maximum permitted punishment is 4 years. Whereas a felony DUI with great bodily injury is classified as a “violent felony” and punishment can range up to 6 years.
The classification further controls custody credits once incarcerated. A person convicted of DUI causing great bodily injury receives only 15% custody credit as a “violent felony” while someone convicted of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated receives 50% custody credit as a “serious felony.” Further, the passage of Proposition 57 in November of 2016, conferred on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation the authority to create and award new time credits in addition to the time credits statutorily provided. This was done in an effort to encourage inmates to take responsibility for their own rehabilitation and education. Under Proposition 57, Sepolio could receive 50% prison credit or even higher, 66.6% if assigned to fight fires.
Judge Rogers opined the DUI laws may need to be changed, but that was left to the legislature. In the meantime, he would have to follow the law as written. Although, Bright had argued for 18 years, Judge Rogers found the maximum was 9 years, 8 months.
The Sentencing Hearing – Grief, Pain and Shattered Lives
On April 30, 2019, Richard Sepolio’s sentencing hearing began and went late into the day. When I first arrived, I watched 25 sheriff deputies emerge from the courtroom. I was surprised at the number, but this would be an emotional day and clearly nothing was being left to chance. Upon taking the bench, Judge Rogers welcomed everyone to this “somber occasion” and then invited the victim impact statements to commence. “Speak from your heart” he told each person as they walked to the podium. Speaker after speaker poured out their hearts, many breaking down in tears, others speaking loudly in anger, some lambasting Sepolio for what they perceived was his lack of remorse and ordered him to apologize to the families, while others were outraged Sepolio wore his Navy uniform. As the raw pain burst forth, there was no doubt, lives had been shattered.
The Victim Impact Statements: “Judge Rogers, Please See Our Suffering”
The three daughters of AnnaMarie and Cruz Contreras were a heartbreaking trio, so uniform in their resemblance and unbearable suffering. The youngest daughter, Mia, was 21 when her parents died, and she said, “It kills me a stranger had to hold my father’s hand while he took his last breath.” She described how earnestly her parents desired a college education for their girls, as they were unable to do so, but then could not attend her graduation. She told Judge Rogers she is a shell, has nothing to look forward to, and cannot even cry.
The middle daughter, Mylinda, said the day she found out turned into the worst day of her life and she now sits at her parents’ grave and cries her heart out. She then told of the goodness of her parents. How they took in foster care children and their siblings. How AnnaMarie was the only person who could calm a crying special needs child and how she took in hurt and stray animals. She said Richard Sepolio gets to start a family “when he took away mine,” before stating, “nine years is nothing.” Speaking directly to Sepolio, she said, “Mr. Sepolio, it is time. It is time for you to man up. You deserve the maximum, that is exactly what you did. You ruined my life.”
The oldest daughter, Mary Ann, said writing the letter to the court was the hardest thing she had to do, trying to put on paper what they had lost. She implored Judge Rogers to “Please listen to our suffering,” stating they have been “in hell.” She too spoke of the goodness of her parents. They took in 26 foster care children. Calls came at 3:00 a.m. and they always said, “Yes.” Her parents kept a special Christmas box where they stored gifts for those who had none. She said they loved seeing a person’s eyes light up upon receiving the unexpected gift. She told Judge Rogers she has not celebrated one holiday since, her faith is gone, and she has been unable to pray. “Just look at me once. See my suffering,” she begged, before asking for the maximum. “It should have been 18 years and nine years is not justice” she stated.
Tim Contreras described his aunt and uncle, AnnaMarie and Cruz, as “angels on earth.” He said they worked at a school for no pay, Cruz helped kids without a father figure, and mentored troubled youth. Another relative described how Cruz had been there for him when he struggled with alcohol and was incarcerated. He went on to say he could not grasp the lack of compassion and remorse from Sepolio and “a simple I’m sorry could help close some of the wounds.”
The family of Andre Banks said their family was destroyed, no longer whole, and described how nothing could ever replace him. Some members of the family were too broken to even attend court. Andre’s mother asked if Sepolio realized the devastation he brought. Another relative, Liz, said her nine-year-old daughter was in therapy for the past two years because she lost her best friend Andre. “Lost to a drunk driver who won’ take responsibility for his actions!” she shouted in anger. She requested the maximum sentence.
Francine Jimenez, the mother of four, would have been proud of her brave daughter, who spoke on behalf of her siblings. As the high schooler walked to the podium and said her name, Judge Rogers looked at her with deep sympathy and said, “I know who you are.” It was clear he had only compassion for this young girl who had suffered loss beyond her years and on any normal day, should have been in school. She said she was 15 when her mother died, and now is a senior having to navigate without her. “My mom was the light of my life and there are so many days that I wake up and I just want to tell her good morning or wish her a good day at work.” She misses the trips they did together, going to the beach with her mom the most. She said the saddest thing is she can’t remember her voice. She closed by saying, “Judge do right by us, all of us here, my siblings.”
Francine’s mother was next. “All I want is justice for my daughter,” she said before stating Sepolio’s car was a weapon and it was no different than pulling a trigger. Francine’s cousin stood at the podium surrounded by her three daughters. She said Francine was always happy and told of a recent time when she felt her spirit. She asked for the maximum, stating, “We are suffering.”
Other victims questioned why Sepolio was wearing his Navy uniform, while others offered condemnation. Julie De La Torre said she was one of the injured who made it home that night and cannot imagine what her kids would have done without her. She said she was “disgusted” Sepolio was in the uniform and called him a coward. Another victim said, “You have no right to wear that uniform. It’s a shame you did not die instead of our family.” She called him a murderer before saying, “Grow up, be a man, stand up and apologize to these families.” She further said this case was about race, and closed by saying, “Today is the day we bury you.”
Pablo Trevino was the twentieth speaker and the last person before Sepolio’s side addressed the court. Trevino was the organizer of the Chicano Park La Raza motorcycle event, and he was a fixture at all proceedings. It was clear he was deeply invested in the case and always spoke freely to the press. He asked Judge Rogers to take into consideration the thousands impacted and traumatized. He told Judge Rogers initially he saw his son in Sepolio and had huge compassion for him. “He’s a young kid. It’s a mistake.” His feelings changed however, once Sepolio refused to look at them, and was “cavalier and smug in his tailored suit.” He said Sepolio was a monster for the torment and suffering he caused, and for the skulls he crushed. He asked for an “adequate just sentence.”
After hearing from all the victims, Judge Rogers assured the voices had not gone unheard. “I know how emotional this case is,” he said before stating extra security was in place, the Sepolio family had been cursed and threatened, and even tracked back to attorney Pfingst’s office. He said AnnaMarie and Cruz gave love to those who most needed it and spreading hate is not what the people who had died would want. He voiced his belief good people can make bad, devastating choices. “I have, and if we look inward, we all have,” said Judge Rogers.
The Defense: Sepolio Stopped a Girl From Being Bullied and Kept Her From Committing Suicide
Three people spoke on behalf of Richard Sepolio. First was his pastor who had flown in from Texas and told of how Sepolio would help elderly people into the church, not because he had to but because he wanted to. “I know what he was, and I know what he can be,” he said. “One mistake but my God is a God of second chance.” Next was Sepolio’s work supervisor who said he mentored, trained others, and took pride in his work. She thanked Sepolio for everything and said she is a better person for knowing him.
Sepolio’s mother, Blanca, apologized to the families and said she had not spoken to them before because she couldn’t. She said the people in the courtroom made her son “look like an animal,” but it was “an accident.” She then went on to tell a story of how her son stopped a girl from being bullied during high school. Maria was an overweight girl who one day was thrown into a barrel. No one would stop the abuse until her son stepped in and put an end to it. Later he went to see Maria and she told him she wanted to commit suicide because she was tired of the bullying. He told Maria her life was valuable, and God had a plan for her. Every year Maria thanks God for Richard Sepolio, and she now helps others. After concluding the story, Blanca said, “My son is not a murderer. He is a life saver.” Blanca is deeply religious, rising every day at 3:00 a.m. to attend church. She urged everyone to love one another and said, “Learn to forgive and you will learn to heal.” She turned to her son and said, “I love you with all my heart.”
After Blanca had concluded, Judge Rogers said Maria wrote a letter to the court about the bullying and how Richard had saved her. Judge Rogers looked near tears himself.
Richard Sepolio: “I Am Wholeheartedly Sorry”
At last, it was Richard Sepolio’s turn. He stood and turned to face the families. He said he understood their anger and then in a very slow and emotional voice said he was wholeheartedly sorry for the loss and pain he caused. He wished he could change what he did so much. His heart hurts the worst. “I’ve seen the photos” he said, and they are etched into his mind. “The eyes do more damage than an earthly court can do.” In closing, he said “I pray one day you’ll find forgiveness in your hearts. I don’t know why I survived. I wish I could trade places…I need you to know this, I would trade my life for theirs.”
The Prosecution Asks for the Maximum Sentence
Cally Bright asked Judge Rogers to impose the maximum sentence and then said because the crimes were classified as serious not violent felonies, Sepolio would earn 50% credit for good behavior. He would serve half the sentence, only 4 years and 10 months. It was “sad the way DUI laws work,” she said, before adding, “that lives were worth 8 months.”
The Defense Says Sepolio Has Been Punished and Asks for Probation
Attorney Pfingst said it was not a question of whether Richard Sepolio would be punished as he has been. He said Sepolio spent 16 months in solitary confinement because of threats, has seen his family mistreated, and will no longer be able to serve in the Navy. Pfingst emphasized Sepolio had no prior criminal record, fully cooperated in this case, and the jury determined he had no intent to harm. He said the sentencing laws permitted probation in this case and that is what he was asking for.
Judge Rogers’ Sentence and Final Words
Judge Rogers thanked everyone and said he understood the long and painful process this has been and stated, “There is loss everywhere in this case.” He looked to the good he had heard and said, “When we encounter people who lived lives of good, we are all better. We have all lost.” He next moved to Richard Sepolio, stating he found him to be “a fine young man.” Judge Rogers talked about Maria, the high school girl stuffed in a trash can, overweight, bullied. No one helped her but Richard Sepolio. Judge Rogers was clearly moved by the story.
He then explained Sepolio could not say sorry until the case was over and he found his remorse to be genuine. He told the grieving, he hopes for “a day when you can remember how they lived, rather than how they died.” He hopes they can enjoy holidays again, that “their spirit will move you to join.”
Judge Rogers said he has been in the criminal justice system for over 40 years and this case was thoroughly investigated. Sepolio made a mistake. He had no intention to kill anyone. “It was not murder,” he said imploring people to let go of such characterization. “Let go of the hot rock so we can heal” he continued.
Before pronouncing the sentence, Judge Rogers said to be proud of the vigor from both sides and acknowledged the long deliberation of the jury. He then opined about the DUI laws, stating maybe they need to be changed, but he had to follow the law as written. He noted Sepolio was eligible for probation, and if the consequences were not so devastating, there would not be a better candidate than he. He said he respects people who were “affronted” by his statement Richard Sepolio was not a monster, but he does not believe Richard Sepolio is a monster. “Ask Maria if he’s not a monster?” We’ve all done something bad.
“This is a fine young man but devastating consequences,” said Judge Rogers once again. Finding the consequences outweighed Sepolio’s “sterling character,” he sentenced Richard Sepolio to the maximum of 9 years, 8 months. He was given 479 days of credit for time served and 478 conduct credits. As the agonizing day finally came to an end, Judge Rogers spoke his last words, saying he is acutely aware of the tragedy on each side and wishes healing for all.
Richard Sepolio is Granted Early Release After Serving 2 years and 10 months
In early November 2020, prison officials announced Richard Sepolio was slated for early release, citing good behavior prison credits and Governor Gavin Newson’s executive order of inmate early release to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Sepolio had served two years and 10 months of his 9-year, 8-month sentence.
San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan immediately opposed the release and dispatched letters to Governor Newson and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation calling the early release “unconscionable” and a “miscarriage of justice.” She wrote: “This very early release is unconscionable…CDCR’s decision is re-victimizing the family and friends of the four people killed and seven injured who have been devastated by their loss and continue to deal with the financial, emotional, mental and physical trauma caused by the defendant. This inmate continues to deny and minimize the crime by refusing to admit he was speeding and denying being impaired while arguing with his girlfriend on the phone, which resulted in the devastating crash.”
Stephan called for Richard Sepolio to serve the term originally contemplated and, in a video, stated, “There is no reason they can’t stop it. Meaning, he is not entitled under the law. This is just a freebie, a get out of jail card.”
Family members of the victims were shocked by the news and jumped into action to oppose the release. One daughter of AnnaMarie and Cruz Contreras, in a long and passionate message posted on the Barrio Bridge Facebook page, asked people to contact Governor Newson and CDCR objecting to Richard Sepolio’s release. “This is the last chance we have to fight for justice” she wrote and ended the post with: “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them!”
Journalist Terri Figueroa of the San Diego Union Tribune who contacted Richard Sepolio’s attorney, Paul Pfingst, wrote, “Pfingst blasted Stephan’s criticism of the release as “ridiculous.” He is being treated like every other inmate in the California system.”
Pfingst went on to say, “I am surprised that the DA decides to pick out this one person rather than all the other inmates that have been released because of the six-month COVID rule.” Pfingst also said Richard received good-time credits for furthering his education by taking classes and for working in a prison fire camp. Pfingst called Richard, “a decent young man in every respect,” and said he remains remorseful for the crash. “He poses no danger,” Pfingst stated. “Quite the opposite. He, no doubt, will be a contributing member of society.”
On Friday morning, November 6, 2020, Richard Sepolio, now 28, was released.
As the families are left to grapple with this latest development, Pablo Trevino, the organizer of the La Raza motorcycle rally and witness of that terrible day, told the news camera, “The court system and judicial system have failed us miserably.”
On October 15, 2016, beautiful lives were taken, and lives shattered. It is hoped Judge Rogers’ final words will one day come true, that there will be healing for all.
During the trial, I appeared on network news to discuss this case. Here is one of my interviews with KUSI News while the jury was deliberating.
About Aleida K. Wahn, Esq.
I am an attorney, award-winning true crime writer, and legal analyst of criminal cases. I cover criminal trials and write stories about compelling, gripping, and unforgettable cases that impact our world. I take you into the courtroom in high-profile murder trials, rape cases, crimes of passion, cases involving mental illness, deviant behavior, and more. I have a deep passion for true crime, criminal law, and all aspects of the criminal justice system. I have appeared as an expert on true crime shows and provided legal analysis on high-profile criminal trials on Court TV, the Law & Crime Trial Network, Fox 5 News, ABC 10 News, and KUSI News. I also create and host shows with the Del Mar Television Producers Group, addressing criminal justice and social issues in recent criminal trials.
I provided my insight and legal analysis on Court TV and the Law & Crime Trial Network of the high-profile trial of former NFL star Kellen Winslow Jr. It was a trial that captured the nation as the heralded ex-football star with fame, fortune, and a famous name stood accused of multiple rapes and other sex crimes involving five women. As the trial delved into shocking facts, complicated legal issues, and unexpected twists and turns, I was there for every minute. After the trial, I wrote a book on the case, going behind the headlines to share the extraordinary details of what happened inside the courtroom. Judging Winslow Jr.: From NFL Star to Serial Rapist? Inside the Shocking Rape Trial of Kellen Boswell Winslow II is now available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZLM5HCG
I am passionate about telling true crime stories, as these penetrating stories have the power to move us all, while highlighting societal issues which need to be addressed. I have personally seen the human devastation which is present in each trial and believe there is a lesson to be learned in every single case. It is through awareness and examining critical issues society can effect change and even make new laws. To learn more, please visit: www.aleidalaw.com.