Deborah Nelson heard detectives describe the shooting death of her daughter as the random result of superficiality and greed, of violence and a gang-and-gun youth culture she tried to combat and the whole thing sickened her.
It started with the alleged robbery by Louis James Mitchell of some neighborhood guy's "gold grill" the flashy, insertable teeth popular among ostentatious celebrities and the young people who emulate them. A week later, Marvion Barksdale, a friend of the alleged robbery victim, caught up with Mitchell and told him to give the guy his grill back, the story went. When Mitchell refused, they slugged it out.
Next time Barksdale and Mitchell saw each other, they shot it out, detectives said. When one of Barksdale's friends joined the battle, a stray bullet from his handgun struck and killed Deborah Nelson's daughter, while the young woman threw her body over her 2-year-old son to protect him from the flying bullets.
"What sense does that make?" Nelson said outside court Thursday, during a break in the preliminary hearing of six men accused of murder in the Dec. 14, 2010, killing of her 30-year-old daughter, Monique Nelson, outside the Fly Cuts & Styles barbershop on Stockton Boulevard in unincorporated south Sacramento.
"A grill is a mouthpiece," Nelson said. "It's ignorance. You killed my daughter my child is dead over a gold grill?"
More than two years after the killing of Monique Nelson, the preliminary hearing appears to be getting closer to wrapping up. It began in July and had continued over 13 court sessions, through the two held Wednesday and Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court.
Judge Ernest W. Sawtelle scheduled the next one for Jan. 17. The hearings will determine if there is enough evidence for Sawtelle to order the six to stand trial.
Detectives say Louis Mitchell, 21, wielded an AK-47 assault rifle during the gunfight in which an estimated 35 shots were fired just before 1 o'clock in the afternoon, 11 days before Christmas.
Marvion Barksdale would have joined Mitchell as a defendant charged with murder in the death of Monique Nelson, but for the fact that he himself was shot and killed in his retreat armed with what turned out to be an inoperable 9 millimeter pistol, officials said.
The other defendants in the case include Mitchell's brother, Lonnie Orlando Mitchell Jr., 26. Authorities say he pulled a Tec-9 semiautomatic handgun from beneath his barber's bib to fight off an apparent raid on Fly Cuts led by Marvion Barksdale and another gunman and co-defendant identified as Dominique Marcell Lott, 29. James Leo Carney III, 33, has been identified by sheriff's detectives as a Barksdale ally positioned outside the barbershop who fired the shot aimed at the Mitchells that killed Nelson. Charles Barksdale, 31, who was in his cousin's car during the shootout, is yet another defendant.
The sixth defendant, Larry Dean "Li'l Leez" Jones Jr., 31, called Marvion Barksdale from the barbershop to report he'd been "blocked" in by the Mitchell enemies, authorities said.
He was armed and shooting at people inside the barbershop, where several other innocent bystanders were wounded, according to the prosecution.
Deborah Nelson knew all the defendants by type. She spent her career working for the Sacramento city schools, mostly as a teacher and principal at Parkway Elementary.
It's the same school that served the G Parkway neighborhood that authorities say the Barksdales, Carney, Lott and Jones claimed as their turf, as reputed members of the G Mobb street gang.
"I spent 25 years of my life in the educational system, helping kids like this, trying to get people to 'understand their circumstances,' and 'they need more love,' and 'they need more understanding,'" Nelson said, her voice changing into tones of obvious bitterness and disgust as she recited her efforts to assist the neighborhood's youths. "I mean I have reached out to thousands of children, and these same kids kill my child? It's kind of ironic."
It was Sacramento County Sheriff's Detective Tony Turnbull who testified Thursday about the events that led up to the barbershop shootout.
Three weeks beforehand, a friend of Marvion Barksdale's named Marquell Craig "Queazy" Jones went to grab some lunch with Louis Mitchell. On the ride to their meal at the 7-Eleven, Mitchell "robbed him of $40, his grill and an eighth (of an ounce) of weed," Turnbull testified.
An acquaintance of Mitchell, Marvion Barksdale, saw him a week later at the SD Mart on Mack Road, Turnbull testified. Witnesses said Barksdale told Mitchell to return the gold teeth to Jones. When Mitchell refused, Barksdale and Mitchell fought until a security guard at the store pepper-sprayed them both "and they went on their way," Turnbull testified.
Two days before the barbershop shooting, Marvion Barksdale sent a text message to co-defendant Lott to "b cool," that "them suckas" had been flashing a "tek." That same day another message went out calling for a meeting of the "Gass Team" subset of the G Mobb, apparently to discuss the Mitchells' acquisition of the rapid-fire handgun, according to Turnbull's testimony.
In the hour before the shooting, the cellphones burned between Jones and Carney at the barbershop and Marvion Barksdale, who was with Lott and his cousin Charles, the three of whom drove over to Fly Cuts with a fourth person who stayed in the car and was not charged in the case.
The resulting shootout took the life of a woman who had taken her son to a one-hour photo store in the same shopping center as the barbershop. Employed at her family's newsstand and bookstore at the airport, Monique Nelson also had begun a new career as a caregiver all of which came second to taking care of her little boy.
"Monique would not be associated in this type of situation," her mother said. "And for her to be so innocent, so naive, to think that at 1 o'clock in the daytime, in Sacramento, California, that you can't take your baby to get his picture taken?"
Deborah Nelson heard about the gold grill and everything else, and she also heard about guns like AK-47s and Tec-9s.
"Where do they get these guns?" Deborah Nelson asked. "You know it's not legal."
Authorities said they do not know where or how the defendants obtained the firearms.