Friend of Sheril Smith’s charged in her killing
Sheril Smith didn’t deserve to die face down in the dirt on the side of a dark farm road, shot multiple times, her family said Thursday.
The loving mother raised three successful children, all stellar students and athletes, including Xavier Smith Jr., a University of Arizona football player.
She had supported and comforted her family through difficult tragedies.
But in the past year she had separated from her husband of 20 years and began to draw away from the family. She began to associate more with Tyrone Cisco, a man she had known since childhood. Now Cisco is in the Pima County Jail, charged with killing Smith, 38.
Her body was discovered around 9:15 p.m. April 6 at Trico and Hardin roads, west of Marana.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department would not disclose details of the killing except to say it was an open investigation.
Cisco, 32, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of first-degree murder. He’s being held on $1 million bail.
Smith’s family knows little about how or why she was killed.
But they know that the last time she was seen alive, on April 6, she was with Cisco.
They said Smith dropped off her daughter, Aisha Smith, 15, at Ora Mae Harn Park in north Marana to watch a softball game in the evening. She drove away with Cisco in the car, they said.
Smith’s mother, Lily Gainous, related what the teen told her, how Smith didn’t answer her phone when Aisha called her to pick her up after the game, and how the teen eventually walked to a post office and got a ride home from a police officer. She said Aisha spent the night at a friend’s when she couldn’t get into her own house in the 400 block of East Prince Road.
What they also know is how much they’ll miss Sheril.
“She didn’t deserve this,” her estranged husband, Xavier Smith Sr., said. “She loved her kids. She was a mother, above all else.”
Smith’s children, Aisha, Xavier Jr. and Michael, are all great athletes. Xavier and Michael were both standout running backs for the Sunnyside High football team.
Xavier is a redshirt sophomore tailback at UA and is vying for a starting position in the fall. He rushed for 1,205 yards and 16 touchdowns for Sunnyside his senior year, when he was ranked as the nation’s 13th-best tailback.
Michael was the Tucson Citizen’s Student-Athlete Award winner for 2005-2006 after leading the city in rushing in 2005 with 1,982 yards and 24 TDs and compiling a 3.9 grade-point average.
UA football coach Mike Stoops had no comment about Smith’s death. Xavier Smith Jr. could not be contacted at UA; practice was closed. He has been attending practice all week, a UA spokesperson said.
Smith’s daughter was also a great love of her life, Xavier Smith Sr. said.
“She’s so much like her mother,” he said, “just joy all the time.”
Smith’s family has been through tragedy before. Her brother, Loyd Gainous, was partially paralyzed in a work accident in 1998, and her nephew, Ian Townsend, was shot and killed in 2004. That killing remains unsolved.
But through all that, the family remained close and strong.
In an article about Xavier Smith Jr. in 2005, Sunnyside football coach Richard Sanchez gave much credit to Sheril and Xavier Sr. for raising good kids.
“(Xavier Jr.) has a real close-knit family,” Sanchez said. “He’s got a great support system. From the grandma, to the mom and the dad, they have been great supporters.
“They’ve done a great job of raising those kids. They’re great kids with great character.”
But something changed last year.
Sheril Smith’s family said she began to have less contact with her mother, her brothers Loyd, and George Lee Gainous and Gregory Gainous, who all live in town, and her sister, Delilah Townsend, who lives in Colorado.
Growing up in Rillito, the family was close, not only among themselves, but also with neighbors. That is why Tyrone Cisco has referred to himself as their cousin.
“In Rillito, everybody’s connected somehow,” said Lacey Colter Sr., a good friend of Lily Gainous. He is retired from the Tucson Police Department and works in support services for the Sheriff’s Department. The family wants Colter to speak at Smith’s services.
“It’s not uncommon for everybody to call each other ‘cousin,’ ” he said.
Cisco’s court record shows at least 13 run-ins with the law over the last 15 years. Some were minor, many were dismissed.
His ex-wife filed a request in Superior Court for an order of protection against him.
In addition to two children from that marriage, court records indicate Cisco had two children with a woman who used the aliases “Pokey,” “187 Killer” and “Crip Queen,” according to court records.
“I had no beef with him about anything,” Smith Sr. said, recalling how he and Sheril met Cisco years ago.
“We saw Tyrone when he was about 12, 14 years old,” Xavier Smith Sr. said, “a little, big-headed kid who would come to the family picnics. Later he came to watch my sons play football.”
His opinion of Cisco has changed in the past year or more.
“Fake police would call me all the time,” Xavier Smith Sr. said, adding they tried to lure him out to various locations. He asked for their badge numbers, which they would not give. He told them to meet him at the sheriff’s station, which they would not do.
He said the calls stopped last June after he reported them to authorities. Pima County sheriff’s spokesman James Ogden said he could not comment on the harassing phone calls because they are connected to the investigation of Sheril Smith’s death.
Ogden confirmed that six deputies went to Lily Gainous’ home last year on a tip she had planned a murder for hire, paying $3,000 to have Sheril killed.
“I pulled out every piece of waterless cookware I just got,” she said, proving to the deputies where the $3,000 had gone. The tip was false. The family could only wonder who it came from.
Xavier Smith Sr. relayed another incident. He said a good friend of Sheril Smith’s told him Cisco called the friend Friday night, telling the friend to go check on Sheril, that Xavier Smith Sr. was “acting crazy” and had a gun.
Again, the Sheriff’s Department would not confirm the phone call. But it was mentioned in a probable cause statement for Cisco’s arrest written by Cisco’s arresting officer, Detective Theresa Hess. It also said Cisco was the one with a gun that night.
The report states Cisco borrowed a gun the previous week and returned it to his friend between 9:30 and 10 p.m. on April 6. Smith’s body was found at 9:15 p.m.
The probable cause statement also says Cisco was attempting to pin the death on Xavier Smith Sr.
The statement says Aisha and Sheril Smith were directed to copy in their own hand letters that Cisco wrote that incriminated Xavier Smith Sr. in the crime. It was unclear if Smith was asked to write a letter about her own death. Hess did not return calls for comment.
Xavier Smith Sr. said sheriff’s investigators interrogated him, checked his alibi and took photographs of his hands and shoes to clear him as a suspect. Ogden said he could not comment on whether Xavier Smith Sr. has been cleared.
Family members said Cisco removed all his belongings from his Prince Road residence in the days leading up to the killing. Xavier Smith Sr. said Cisco even made Sheril and Aisha wash the walls with bleach.
Funeral services for Sheril Smith will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Evergreen Mortuary, 3015 N. Oracle Road, preceded by a closed casket visitation at 11 a.m.
Citizen Staff Writers David L. Teibel and Jessie Vanderson contributed to this article.