Road rage trial gets underway

The criminal prosecution of two defendants being tried together for the Jan. 12, 2003 murder of 22-year-old Skyline student Raymond Gardner of Pacifica, is underway in Redwood City.

More than two years after what prosecutors say was the road rage shooting death of Gardner, San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher provided the jury with opening statements March 7.

Defendant John Navarro, a convicted felon, and defendant Tito Sedeno, both 23-year-old San Franciscans, are known members of San Francisco Mission District gangs. Prosecutors, however, do not allege the murder was gang-related.

The shooting occurred on Interstate 380 in San Bruno in the early hours of Jan. 12, 2003, when shots were fired at two vehicles, one in which the victim was a passenger and the other which drove alongside carrying a group of his friends.

Prosecutors contend that after a Chevrolet Tahoe sport utility vehicle in which both defendants and others were traveling weaved dangerously in and out of lanes and was honked at by one of the other drivers, shots fired from the SUV struck both of the other cars.

One of those shots struck Gardner in the back of the head, killing him. He was pronounced dead hours later at Kaiser Permanente’s South San Francisco Medical Center.

The two groups of people in the three vehicles apparently had no prior connections until the time of the crime.

The victim and his friends were returning from an automobile show in San Jose. Gardner, who was asleep in the passenger seat of one car, was riding home to Pacifica with his friends.

“No one knew each other; there was no pre-existing animosity,” Gallagher said. “The defendants were drinking all evening and driving around with loaded guns. Our belief is that both defendants did acts that led to the death of Mr. Gardner.”

Richard Sedillo, a chief witness for the prosecution who was a passenger riding together with both defendants in the SUV, was arrested but not charged and later released by authorities.

“We didn’t charge him as an accomplice as we don’t think there’s credible evidence that he was involved,” Gallagher said.

The district attorney also said the jury will be given the legal option to decide whether Sedillo was involved. If they think he was, they can still decide whether or not to consider his testimony.

According to Gallagher, a case like this typically takes 18 months before going to trial. This case was first set for trial in October 2004 and had been postponed due to various defense pretrial motions.

Gardner was known to many as a kind person who worked with kids, and he was also involved with a group that performed Brazilian forms of self-defense techniques.

“He was a really decent person,” Gallagher said.

The prosecution expects to rest its case this week. The defendants face up to 90 years each in prison if convicted.

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