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30 years later, an accused gunman pleads not guilty to trying to kill his friend over a woman

After a gunman ambushed a Rancho Santa Fe gardener at work in 1988, authorities quickly zeroed in on a suspect: his friend.

The victim and a witness gave sheriff’s deputies the alleged assailant’s name — Simon Loredo Mayo. The two men had been at odds over a woman.

Prosecutors filed charges against Mayo not long after the Dec. 12, 1988 attack, but were unable to find and arrest him. Mayo had vanished.

Last month, sheriff’s cold case detectives found him in Texas.

On Thursday, Jan. 17, Mayo, now 58, was in a Vista courtroom where he pleaded not guilty to attempted murder.

“For 30 years, the victim has waited for this day,” Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe told Superior Court Judge James Simmons, Jr., during Mayo’s brief arraignment.

They had been friends, Watanabe said, before they vied for the affections of the same woman.

According to a Los Angeles Times report from 1988, the then-27-year-old victim was tending a lawn near a driveway at a home on Luna de Miel when he was repeatedly shot in the back.

One of the bullets went through his abdomen. Another lodged in his chest.

In arguing for a high bail amount for Mayo, Watanabe told the judge that Mayo and three men showed up at the victim’s worksite in a white truck, and that Mayo got out and confronted the victim.

The victim ran, according to Watanabe, and the gunman pulled a revolver from his waistband and fired five shots.

The victim was hit three times. The homeowner witnessed the attack and called 911. (She has since died.)

Patrol deputies found the truck, and questioned the men inside. But there were only three people in it. Mayo was not among them.

With Mayo at large, the case gathered dust until detectives started checking to see if Mayo’s name came up in any databases. They found that he had recently registered a vehicle in Texas.

Watanabe said detectives worked with Austin police to arrest Mayo, who was brought to the police station on what he thought was an outstanding traffic warrant.

California detectives were waiting for him. It was Dec. 11, one day before the 30-year anniversary of the incident.

“He confessed to the shooting,” Watanabe said of Mayo. “He talked about the dispute he had over this woman — who is now his wife.”

The prosecutor said Mayo told police that, right after the shooting, he fled from the truck and hid the revolver under a rock.

Mayo told authorities he fled to Tijuana, Watanabe said, and that he later lived in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina before moving to Texas.

Mayo married the woman at the heart of the dispute. According to Watanabe, the couple is still married, but she lives in Mexico and visits her husband in Texas.

Mayo’s attorney did not make a statement on behalf of his client during the bail argument.

Simmons set Mayo’s bail at $1 million, finding him to be a flight risk.

If Mayo is convicted of attempted murder and allegations including the use of a gun, he faces up to 14 years in prison.

— Teri Figueroa is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune