Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

At sentencing in 2009 Brandon killings, victim's mother offers forgiveness

TAMPA — Esteban Merchan was just 19 when he pulled a knife on Tony Black and started stabbing him in the shoulder and back.

On Dec. 29, 2009, Merchan and 18-year-old Prentiss Jackson killed three men in a gang-related attack in the back yard of a Brandon home.

Jackson was sentenced to life in prison last year for his role.

Friday, it was Merchan's turn.

After a judge accepted the plea deal — life in prison with no chance of parole — Black's mother got to speak.

"It just hurts me to my heart that children play with guns," said Shardretta Burke, 49. "Why? … It hurts everybody."

Black was her eldest son. When he died, he left an 11-year-old brother who wondered why the doctors couldn't just take out the bullet and make his brother better.

But Tony Black, a 22-year-old man known in his church for his beautiful singing voice, was already dead.

So was Vincent Thomas, 22, fatally shot.

So was Rafael Guadalupe, 21, stabbed to death.

When Guadalupe died, his daughter was 3 weeks old.

The little girl is now almost 3 years old. She has heard about her father's love, but she'll never feel it, her mother, Demi Roberts, said Friday in court.

"At the end of the day, it will be my innocent child who hurts the most," Roberts said.

Merchan faced three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for what happened at 507 Oakwood Ave. in Brandon.

Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty, but the plea agreement that Merchan accepted took that off the table. He would keep his life but spend it behind bars.

So instead of presenting evidence at a trial, a prosecutor rattled off the facts of the case:

Merchan, who lived in Kissimmee, got a ride to the Brandon home with Jackson. The pair walked to the back yard and started stabbing and shooting the three men.

They had been ordered to carry out the killings from a high-ranking member of the Bloods gang. Merchan was a member.

As they left, the pair beat up another man, Ralph Arroyo, 21, who survived. Then they threw the weapons down a storm drain.

When deputies arrived, Black and Thomas were dead, with gunshot wounds to the head and torso.

Guadalupe had 52 knife wounds.

On Friday, Merchan, a slight man who is now 22, was led away in handcuffs, certain to never see the world outside of prison again.

Shardretta Burke said she forgave him.

Burke wasn't planning to speak after the sentencing but said she wanted to say one thing.

"If the world could find a way to stop these young kids from killing each other," she said, "it would just be a miracle."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

At sentencing in 2009 Brandon killings, victim's mother offers forgiveness 10/05/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 6, 2012 12:08am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Philippines forces make gains in city under siege by ISIS-linked militants

    MARAWI, Philippines — Philippine forces say they now control most of a southern city where militants linked to the Islamic State group launched a bloody siege nearly a week ago.

  2. Rays exhausted but happy after 15-inning win over Twins (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Rays eventually won Sunday's 6½-hour, 15-inning marathon against the Twins 8-6, they did plenty to lose it. And we need to get that out of the way first.

    The Rays’ Evan Longoria enjoys a laugh after scoring, barely, to tie it in the ninth on Steven Souza Jr.’s two-out single.
  3. Tom Jones' Two Cents: ABC's Indy 500 coverage is stellar again

    TV and Radio

    Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Takuma Sato left, celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves is a little late passing him. ABC’s coverage of the race is stellar throughout, with plenty of extras but no fake drama.
  4. Takuma Sato surprise winner of wreck-filled Indy 500

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Takuma Sato, a journeyman driver, became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when he held off three-time champion Helio Castroneves in a 230-mph wheel-rubbing duel to the finish.

    Scott Dixon’s car goes over the top of Jay Howard, soaring so high that Helio Castroneves drove under it while it was airborne. Stunningly, there were no serious injuries.
  5. South Korea military: North Korea fires unidentified projectile


    SEOUL — North Korea launched a ballistic missile early today that flew 280 miles and landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone, the South Korean military and the Japanese government said.

    S. Korean President Moon Jae-in is assessing the launch.