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Man guilty of murder of mother of ex-Sunnyside High stars

Tyrone Little Cisco, 33, was found guilty of first-degree murder Friday in the shooting death of Sheril Smith, mother of former University of Arizona running back Xavier Smith Jr.

Smith was shot five times – twice in the back, once in the head and twice in the side – with a 12-gauge shotgun on April 6, 2007, according to testimony in the case.

Her body was found in a Marana field near Trico and Hardin roads the next day, atop a file folder that contained her pending divorce papers, letters and an order of protection against her estranged husband, Xavier Smith Sr. Cisco was arrested the next day. He had fled to Eloy, Pima County prosecutor Rick Unklesbay said.

Unklesbay said the killing was part of a life insurance scheme by Cisco, a live-in friend of Sheril Smith. Cisco believed the scheme would have a $1.5 million payout.

Two months before the killing, Cisco took out a $1 million policy on Smith and a $500,000 policy on her daughter, Aisha, then 15.

Unklesbay said Cisco planned to kill both of them the same day.

Aisha, now 17, was a key prosecution witness.

She told a Superior Court jury during the two-week trial that Cisco wore gloves and lay in the back seat of Smith’s car with a shotgun as they drove to Ora Mae Harn Park in Marana and left Aisha there.

Unklesbay said Cisco told her that Cisco and her mother were going rabbit hunting for Easter and they’d come back and pick her up afterward.

But by the time Cisco came back to the park to look for her, she had gotten a ride home from Marana police, after she couldn’t reach her mother by phone.

Cisco had taken her house key, Unklesbay said, and so she spent the night with a friend. Then Cisco returned to the apartment and cleared out his things.

The day after the shooting, Cisco returned the borrowed shotgun to his friend. It was reloaded with two shells, Unklesbay said.

The Department of Public Safety crime lab found that embedded plastic on the shotgun pellets was the same kind as in the shells used to kill Smith, Unklesbay said.

Cisco’s public defender, Jacob Amaru, argued at trial that Smith Sr. might have killed Sheril Smith and that if his client did kill her, the crime should be second-degree murder, a crime of passion, not premeditated murder.

During trial, Amaru pointed to the order of protection found beneath Sheril Smith’s body.

Unklesbay said her body was dragged from the spot where she was gunned down and that the folder was placed beneath her by the killer to raise suspicion that Smith Sr. was the assailant. Unklesbay said that was a setup. He told the court the shotgun Cisco borrowed from a friend could not be excluded as a possible murder weapon, even though Cisco’s fingerprints weren’t on it, because he wore gloves.

Cisco will be sentenced May 4. He faces life in prison with parole possible after 25 years or life with no possibility of parole, Unklesbay said.

Smith’s son, Michael, was the 2006 Tucson Citizen’s Student-Athlete of the Year. He and Xavier Smith Jr. played football at Sunnyside High School.

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