A San Francisco couple accused of murdering a man they say was pimping their teen daughter pleaded not guilty on Friday. Barry Gilton, 38, and Lupe Mercado, 37, could face the death penalty if convicted.
As noted by Lauren Smiley of San Francisco Magazine, District Attorney George Gascon refers to the shooting of 22-year-old Calvin Sneed as a “vigilante murder.” He was on his way to pick up Gilton and Mercado’s 17-year-old daughter, who was not identified, in San Francisco on June 4. He planned to take her home with him to Los Angeles. Believing their daughter was being exploited, her parents didn’t want her to see Sneed.
According to San Francisco Magazine, the daughter was staying in L.A. a lot at that time and had appeared in sex ads on the Internet. Just days before the shooting, she had been reported as a runaway.
As the teen walked to meet Sneed at 2 a.m. on June 4, she saw an SUV pull up and corner Sneed’s vehicle. Shots were fired from a .40 caliber revolver into his rented Corolla, with one striking him in the forehead.
Defense attorney Eric Safire said the couple tried to get their daughter away from Sneed, but had no success. They made missing persons and abuse reports, but it didn’t bring their daughter home.
"Mr. Gilton made every effort that he could to try and convince his daughter to come home and he made every effort that he felt was reasonable to inform the authorities and seek assistance," Safire said.
But the shooting was not the only attempt the couple made on Sneed’s life. They allegedly cornered him in West Hollywood on May 27, shooting into his car, but not seriously injuring him.
When the girl saw her parents at the hospital after Sneed's murder, San Francisco police inspector James Garrity recalled her shouting at them: "I don’t want to see you again! Leave! Get out of my life! I don’t want to see you people again! Get out!”
Friends of the family appeared in court last week to support the couple.
"Barry is a very decent young man, very decent. Him and his wife Lupe, they're decent people and all they wanted to do was save their daughter. She's their oldest kid," Gilton's cousin Maxine Jones said.
"Basically, what we have is we have the parents who become the judge, the jury and executioners," Gascon told KGO-TV. "The death penalty is not a tool that I am in favor of," Gascon said. "But, again, in order for us to seek other remedies, we have to use special circumstances that were appropriate in this case."
"This case is getting more ridiculous by the day if they go after our clients with the death penalty," said defense attorney Tony Tamburello.
"Mr. Sneed was in the mix. He's a gang member. He's been involved in gang fights and shootouts in Los Angeles and there are many people who had a motive to do harm to him and we feel our clients are being unfairly targeted," Tamburello added.
The couple is being held on $2 million bail. The teen and her younger brothers are being cared for by family members.
"I fully understand the frustration the family felt, but still, I think it's very important to know that murder is murder and vigilante murder's still murder," Gascon said.
Sneed’s father admitted his son was a pimp, but said he did not deserve to die the way he did.