Family and friends of the suspects gathered outside the courtroom to support 38-year-old Barry Gilton and 37-year-old Lupe Mercado, accused of killing the man they say was pimping their teenage daughter. "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.
The parents are accused of gunning down 22-year-old Calvin Sneed who lived in Compton. Prosecutors say the couple tracked him to North Hollywood on May 27, shooting into his car but not seriously injuring him. Then, early in the morning on June 4 when Sneed was in San Francisco, police say the girl's father killed him just blocks from the family's Bayview home.
District Attorney George Gascon calls it a vigilante murder. "Basically, what we have is we have the parents who become the judge, the jury and executioners," he said. However, the couple's attorneys say that while there is motive for Sneed's murder, lots of people wanted him dead. "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," Mercado's attorney Tony Tamburello said.
The attorneys say for months, the parents sought help from law enforcement to rescue their 17-year-old. "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," Gilton's attorney Eric Safire said.
"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.
The couple is being held on $2 million bail each. Attorneys say the daughter is safe and she and her three brothers are being cared for by family members. Calvin Sneed's father admits his son was a pimp, but said he did not deserve to die like that.