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A Girl, Her Pimp, and Her Parents

Did a San Francisco couple gun down the man who exploited their daughter?

"Alicia" (third from left) and friends at a relative's graduation in 2012.
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The street corner where Calvin Sneed was killed.
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Barry “Prell” Gilton, Lupe Mercado (right), Alicia (center) and the three Gilton boys, celebrating Prell’s and his aunt’s birthdays in 2012.
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The L.A. pot club where Alicia worked.
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A little while later, Mercado would call Prell’s phone, which by then— according to police affidavits—was pinging off cell towers in the Bayview. At almost precisely that moment, their daughter was leaving the house to meet her pimp. A few minutes after that, Sneed was dying, Alicia was screaming, and, police say, Prell was on his way to the Western Addition to retrieve his car before heading home, where, he would later insist to authorities, he had been all night.

Around 8 A.M. on Saturday, June 9, members of the SFPD’s SWAT team burst into the Jennings Court house and arrested Alicia’s parents. The cops searched the house top to bottom, finding no guns or ammo but confiscating three computers, three iPads, a binder of evidence that Mercado had collected, and, from a nightstand in the master bedroom, a Bible dog-eared at the story of Joseph. They were especially interested in a passage that seemed to be about avenging the harm done to innocent children: “[T]herefore, behold, also his blood is required....”

Williams was arrested a few weeks later, at a Fairfield gas station on his way home from a July 4 barbecue. Lil’ Tone was taken into custody the same day, on Grove Street. Police discovered two shell casings at Williams’s grandmother’s house. In the rec room, they also found what appeared to be Prell’s, Fonz’s, and Lil’ Tone’s names scribbled on a wall alongside those of alleged CDP members, buttressing their belief that the three men were CDP associates. “We have, frankly, people...who have been involved in gangs, who have a prior history of violence,” D.A. Gascón told reporters. “This is not like some person who’s never been involved in a criminal act and gets overcome by passion.... This is a case where you had...a lot of premeditation with people...who are accustomed to doing things in a very violent way.”

Although there are no formal gang charges in the case, the CDP allegations surfaced during the defendants’ preliminary hearing on first-degree murder and conspiracy charges this spring. More than almost anything else during the four weeks of testimony, onlookers found the gang idea outrageous. They showed up every day, a rotating group of 15 or so people connected by blood or neighborhood to the Giltons, Mercado, and Williams. Lil’ Tone’s father, Big Tone, full of street charm even in middle age, greeted women he recognized with “Hey, baby!” Lil’ Tone’s mom wore her SFMTA meter maid uniform, showing off cell phone pictures of her son, his girlfriend, and their three kids in front of a Christmas tree. Williams’s uncle Dean proudly recounted his nephew’s exploits on the court. “How would we have jobs to go to if we were all gangbangers?” Williams’s aunt scoffed. “If you’re two or more black people standing together, they’re gonna think you’re a gang,” Terrill Johnson echoed later. “You can’t hang out with your family and friends you grew up with.”

As to whether the defendants are guilty or innocent, the spectators were more cautious. “I don’t believe in my heart that they did it,” Big Tone said. But from the whispers in the courtroom and the hallways, it was clear that guilt or innocence was almost beside the point. Mercado’s statement—“What would you do if it were your daughter”—reverberates in their community in a way that parents in other parts of the city can never fully understand.

Equally resonant was inspector Kevin Jones’s statement to Mercado during her interrogation: “One thing I really hate about this job is when I see good people turn into the bad people.” Over and over, that’s what their friends and relatives say: Prell and Lupe and Fonz and Lil’ Tone are decent, caring people. They don’t deserve to spend the rest of their lives in jail. On the day of her arrest, Mercado told cops, “You have no control. You sit and wait, and everything snowballs. So what me and Barry have to do is sit and wait until everything falls down and settles.”

They will have to wait until at least September just to find out when their trial will take place—perhaps later this fall, perhaps next year. Meanwhile, Mercado and Gilton are in separate jails; their three boys are living with her extended family in San Francisco and Vallejo. Doris and Wesley say they aren’t sure where Alicia is living, but they’ve heard she has a job. It’s unclear whether she’ll be called to testify against her parents—she is, after all, the only witness to the shooting—and, if so, whether she’ll cooperate. “She’s just a kid,” her lawyer says. “This is a really difficult situation for her. I hope [prosecutors and the court] don’t make it any worse than it has to be. It’s her parents they’re after, and she loves her parents, and her parents love her.”


Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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