The sister of a Fresno panhandler who was fatally injured by a motorist during a high-speed police chase said Friday she has no ill will toward the 20-year-old suspect.
"That day two people – my brother and that young kid – lost their lives," said Charlene Gardner, 45.
Gardner and her friends went to Fresno County Superior Court for the arraignment of Javier Jardon, who pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge of murder in connection with the death of Donald Gardner, a 46-year-old homeless man.
A shackled Jardon said through his attorney, Roger Nuttall, that he also was not guilty of hit and run, evading police or possession of cocaine.
If convicted of murder, Jardon faces a minimum of 15 years to life in prison. His next court appearance is an Aug. 19 status hearing.
He remains in Fresno County Jail in lieu of $1.26 million bail.
Jardon and four passengers were in a new Dodge Charger that was being pursued by a local police gang task force, the California Highway Patrol said.
Traveling at high speed, Jardon lost control on the southbound Highway 99 offramp at Jensen Avenue and hit Donald Gardner, the CHP said. Gardner died later at a hospital.
At the time of the crash, prosecutors contend, Jardon was in possession of cocaine. He also faces an allegation that he is a member or an associate of a criminal street gang, Nuttall said.
According to court records, Jardon has an unresolved drunken driving case from April this year. In June, a warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to appear for a court hearing.
In December 2009, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vandalism and was sentenced to three days in jail and three years of probation and fined $265. Court records show he never paid the fine.
After Friday's hearing, Nuttall said his client feels bad about Gardner's death and didn't intend to hurt anyone. He also said Jardon had been working full time and isn't a gang member.
Jardon is charged with murder under the legal theory of implied malice – that he allegedly knew his actions during the high speed chase were highly dangerous and therefore acted with conscious disregard for human life.
Charlene Gardner said she can't judge Jardon.
"I will leave that up to the jury and God," she said.
The sister, however, said she wants the public to know that her brother grew up in Fresno and Clovis and had worked hard most of his life.
He and their father had an antique and collectible business. But when their father died in 2005, Donald Gardner "just lost it," his sister said.
The divorced father of four sons began living in a tent and panhandling, his sister said. "He was an honest man with lots of friends," she said. "On the day that he died, he probably had a sign that said he needed money for a beer."