San Francisco man who shot at random people because he was high sentenced to federal prison

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SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco man who was charged with illegal gun possession after being arrested in connection with a nonfatal downtown shooting spree was sentenced last week to five years in federal prison, court records show.

Alvin Merrite, 48, was sentenced July 21 by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, months after Merrite pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Authorities say Merrite was arrested after he fired at three strangers around 10 p.m. on Oct. 2, 2020, near Market Street and Montgomery Street. The victims, who were not struck by gunfire, were simply walking past Merrite.

Merrite’s attorney, assistant public defender Elisse LaRouche, offered this explanation for Merrite’s conduct: he was high on drugs alone, and in his paranoid state of mind became concerned when he saw two people walking towards him. He took a swing at one of the passers-by then produced a gun and fired into the air, LaRouche wrote.

“He did not intend to shoot anyone, but fired warning shots. Knowing his actions were wrong and knowing he should go into custody, he yelled ‘Call the law(s)!’ multiple times, asking for law enforcement to arrive on scene,” LaRouche wrote. “When they did, Mr. Merrite was ready to be taken in—he laid prone on the floor with the pistol five feet away from him.”

Merrite wasn’t allowed to have guns because of two prior federal felony convictions: a 1994 cocaine distribution conviction out of Alabama, and a gun conviction in Houston, in 2013, according to court records.

Prosecutors asked for a sentence 10 months longer than what Merrite received, writing that his actions endangered the victims and damaged private property, since a building was hit by one of Merrite’s bullets.

“Unfortunately, the defendant has, by his own admission, engaged in ‘a life of crime’ since the age of 16 and was incarcerated in his first federal case by the time he was 18,” assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Hsieh wrote in a sentencing memo. “He has spent the majority of his adult life either in prison, under correctional supervision (during which he was regularly unable to comply with his terms of supervision), or homeless and unable to stay out of trouble.”

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