Thursday, December 6, 2007

4th suspect Rivera transferred to Miami-Dade

Jazmin Taylor, right, a younger sister of slain Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor, is comforted by another woman after Jazmin spoke on behalf of the family at Taylor's funeral service at Pharmed Arena on Monday. The arena is on the Florida International University campus in Miami.

Originally posted on December 04, 2007

The Associated Press

According to Eric Rivera's attornery Sawyer Smith, Rivera was turned over to Miami-Dade police custody tonight.

7:54 p.m. update

Eric Rivera Jr. shot Sean Taylor after he and three other Lee County residents entered the Washington Redskins player’s Miami-area house Nov. 26, trying to burglarize it, according to an indictment filed Tuesday by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

“Eric Rivera Jr. possessed a firearm and during the course of the commission of the offense, (he) discharged a firearm and as a result of the discharge, death of great bodily harm was inflicted upon Sean Maurice Taylor,” the document reads.

The indictment also states that Jason Scott Mitchell was wearing a hood or mask to hide his identity at the time of the burglary.

Rivera, 17, Mitchell, 19, Venjah Hunte, 20, and Charles Wardlow, 18, face first-degree murder and burglary with assault or battery. Prosecutors didn’t file charges on the armed home invasion robbery charge.

The indictments didn’t reveal details of Wardlow’s and Hunte’s roles.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office could now seek the death penalty against three of the four defendants — Rivera was younger than 18 at the time of the crime and can’t face the death penalty.

If the state doesn’t seek death, all four could face up to life in prison.

The indictments came just hours after Mitchell, Hunte and Wardlow had their first appearance before a judge in Miami on Tuesday morning. They were denied bond.

The three were on suicide watch, said Mitchell’s attorney, Landon Miller, of Naples.
Miller also said a fifth suspect is cooperating with police, although Miami police spokesman, Alvaro Zabaleta, wouldn’t confirm that.

Rivera remained at the Lee County Juvenile Detention Center on Tuesday, said Attorney Sawyer Smith, son of Wilbur Smith, who is representing Rivera.

Attorneys and police have said the four didn’t know Taylor, his girlfriend and the couple’s 18-month-old daughter would be home. Taylor, defending his family with a machete, was shot in the upper leg. Taylor died the next day due to blood loss.

Sasha Johnson, Taylor’s half-sister, dated Christopher Wardlow, who is related to Charles Wardlow, said Dwayne Johnson, Sasha’s father. The four suspects attended a party at Taylor’s house in the past few months, which is how they knew where the NFL star lived, Dwayne Johnson said.

Sawyer Smith said he thinks Rivera will have a first appearance this morning in Miami and that bond will be denied.

Wilbur Smith and Miller agreed that they don’t expect their clients’ cases will go to trial.

“The simple fact is this was a tragedy, and Mitchell doesn’t want to put Taylor’s family through any more pain, specifically the girlfriend and his child,” Miller said.

Mitchell himself has a young son, according to his MySpace Web page.

Wardlow’s attorney, David Brener, said Monday he will prepare the case for trial, while Michael Hornung, representing Hunte, said he doesn’t know how long the case will take.

“I wouldn’t use the word ‘quickly,’” he said. “We’re going to do as much as possible to cooperate.”

Although Rivera’s three co-defendants are charged as principals, meaning they participated but didn’t commit the murder, Hornung said Hunte did less than the others.

“My client gave a truthful statement early on,” he said. “His culpability and his involvement in this is less than his co-defendants.”

1:54 p.m. update

The attorney for suspect Jason Mitchell said police know where the fifth suspect is, and that person is cooperating with authorities.

"We know his name and apparently he's cooperating with law enforcement," said Landon Miller. "That's all I know. There is definitely someone else there, but I don't know anything other than his first name."

Miller said the name would have to be released by law enforcement, but he said it's not likely to have any bearing on his client or the other three suspects.

Police in Miami-Dade have not yet released the name of that fifth person.

Miller said those close to the investigation know who the gunman was. Miller wouldn't say who it was.

"I can tell you 100 percent it was not my client," Miller said. "I think it's going to be very clear in the next week who the trigger guy was. By all accounts, it was monumental bad judgment. The trigger man tried to get away, and they fired a shot. Unfortunately, it hit the artery."

Miller said he strongly expects the case will be resolved before trial.

"The simple fact is this is a tragedy, and they didn't know it was going to happen," Miller said. "Mitchell doesn't want to put the Taylor family through any more pain, specifically Taylor's girlfriend and child."

Alvaro Zabaleta, spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police Department, would not confirm whether authorities know the identity and whereabouts of the fifth

"This is an active investigation, and there is the possibility of future arrests," Zabaleta said.

He would not go into any further detail.

-Rachel Myers

12:31 p.m. update

MIAMI — Three men charged with murdering Sean Taylor were denied bail Tuesday, a day after thousands of mourners attended the funeral for the Washington Redskins safety.

Charles Wardlow, 18, Jason Mitchell, 19, and Venjah Hunte, 20, all made brief court appearances via a videoconference from Miami-Dade County jail, where they will remain after Judge John Thornton Jr.’s ruling.

The three stood silently during the hearing.

Taylor, 24, died Nov. 27, barely 24 hours after he was shot in the bedroom of his home a few miles from where he grew up. Police say he was a victim of a botched burglary.

The three suspects and a fourth one, Eric Rivera, 17, all face charges of unpremeditated murder, home invasion with a firearm or another deadly weapon and armed burglary.

Attorney Sawyer Smith, son of Wilbur Smith, who is representing Rivera, said today that Rivera is still in custody at the Lee County Juvenile Detention Center.

— The Associated Press and

10:56 a.m. update

Three of the four suspects accused in Sean Taylor's killing in Miami have been placed on suicide watch, according to an attorney for Jason Mitchell.

Landon Miller, of Naples, is now representing Mitchell after a conflict of interest
spurred Wilbur Smith to relinquish representation, which was the plan from the start.

"They're on suicide watch, which basically means they removed all their clothing and put them in a lead apron from head to toe, front to back," Miller said. "It's durable, so they can't rip it up or choke themselves with it."

He said it isn't necessarily standard for murder suspects to be placed on suicide watch, but he isn't surprised considering the circumstances of the case.

"(The killing) was certainly not intended," he said. "Nobody planned on having a death."

Miller said bond for the three suspects who appeared in Miami this morning was denied at a hearing at 9:30 this morning.

Miller said his client made a statement to law enforcement, but he had not yet received a copy of that statement.

He, like Smith, who is representing suspect Eric Rivera, do not anticipate a lengthy trial in the case. In fact, he expects there will be some kind of a plea agreement.

"We're hoping the state attorney will look at the case objectively and make a decision based on the facts and not the publicity," he said.

A time frame on that can only be estimated between six months to a year.

"I know they're going to make the decision soon on the charges," Miller said. "They have 33 days to do that, and we're already four days into it."

"But then we'll just go from there."

-Rachel Myers

10:19 a.m. update

Attorney Sawyer Smith, son of Wilbur Smith, who is representing suspect Eric Rivera Jr., said Tuesday morning that Rivera is still in custody at the Lee County Juvenile Detention Center.

That was confirmed by Tony Schall, spokesman for the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

"I think maybe because he's a juvenile, they decided not to transfer them all together," Schall said. "Of course, I can't say when they will transfer him, but as of this morning, he's still here."

The other three suspects were scheduled for their first appearance in Miami court this morning.

Sawyer Smith said Wilbur Smith was in Miami transferring representation of suspect Jason Mitchell to Naples attorney Landon Miller.

Sawyer Smith was initially representing Mitchell in the early stages of the judicial process, but could not continue because Wilbur Smith plans to continue representing Rivera.

For the same law firm to represent Mitchell would have been a conflict of interest.

-- Rachel Myers

9:15 a.m. update

Three of the four suspects charged in Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor’s killing are in the Pre-Trial Detention Center in Miami this morning, awaiting to appear in court between 9 and 9:30 a.m., according to Officer B. Toussaint at the Miami-Dade Corrections Department.

Charles Wardlow, 18, Venjah Hunte, 20 and Scott Mitchell, 19, were listed in the facility this morning. Eric Rivera Jr., 17, was in the Juvenile Assessment Center, said Janelle Hall, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Corrections Department.

However, Sawyer Smith, a Fort Myers attorney representing Rivera, said that Rivera was still in the Lee County Juvenile Detention Center this morning.

The four suspects are facing charges of first-degree felony murder, attempted armed robbery and armed burglary in the shooting of Taylor at his home on Nov. 26.

— Amy Sowder

From today's edition of The News-Press

David Dorsey

MIAMI — The thousands of mourners at Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor's funeral Monday afternoon ranged from his teammates, an actor, an infamous athlete and numerous All-Pros to people as unassuming as the lady who lives down the street.

Fans of the Redskins, the Miami Hurricanes and Gulliver Prep — three teams for which Taylor played defensive back — packed the Pharmed Arena at Florida International University's campus in Miami.

Many in the estimated crowd of 3,000 emerged after the three-hour-plus service, flipping open their cell phones, wearing bright diamond

earrings, designer sunglasses and necklaces of silver and platinum on their way to resume their regular lives.

But for Taylor's family, their lives never will be the same.

Intruders broke into Taylor's Palm Bay home Nov. 26. One shot Taylor, 24, in the leg, and he died the following day.

"We come now not expecting to understand what happened," said the Rev. Alphonso Jackson III, who gave the opening remarks. "We come now with a hole in our hearts."

Fifth suspect sought

As mourners gathered in Miami, attorneys representing two of the four Lee County suspects said police are searching for a fifth person believed to be involved in Taylor's shooting death. They wouldn't elaborate what role that person may have played in what Miami-Dade police say was a botched burglary.

"All I can say is that there is a fifth person," said Wilbur Smith, who represents Eric Rivera, 17.

Rivera, Charles Wardlow, 18, Jason Mitchell, 19, and Venjah Hunte, 20, are charged with burglary, home-invasion robbery and first-degree murder while in commission of a serious felony.

The four suspects gave statements to police. Mitchell said he participated in the armed burglary, according to an affidavit. A second suspect confessed, Miami-Dade police said, but they wouldn't say who it is.

About 6 p.m. Monday, four Miami-Dade Corrections Department vans pulled out of the Lee County Jail in downtown Fort Myers. A short time later, jail records showed three of the suspects had been released from the Lee County sheriff's custody. It is unclear if Rivera is out of Lee County custody.

The four were expected to appear in a Miami courtroom today, said Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the state attorney's office there.

Living in danger

At Taylor's funeral, the Rev. Jesse Jackson implored youngsters in the mostly black audience to overcome their violent environment.

"Even champions live in danger," Jackson told the crowd. "None of us will say, even champions, that our homes are safe.

"We've accepted violence as the norm. It must be rejected."

Jackson's sentiments were echoed by many as they left the arena.

"This country is sinking into anarchy," said Vernelle Nelson, 57, of Tamarac, west of Fort Lauderdale. "It really is. Things like this keep happening over and over and over again."

Nelson said she hoped politicians would take note of what's happening in the inner-city streets. When asked how many funerals of young men she had attended, she struggled to find an answer.

She had lost count.

"This is a famous person," Nelson said of Taylor, who made the Pro Bowl after last season and helped lead the Miami Hurricanes to the 2001 NCAA national title.

"But this is the type of love we need to give to people who don't play professional football," Nelson said.

"I'm here because I'm a lifelong Redskins fan. I live not too far away. It didn't make sense for me not to come. It just didn't."

Edgerrin James, one of the last players to leave, said he could not have missed the service. After the Cardinals finished their game Sunday near Phoenix, James flew immediately to Atlanta, catching a flight to Miami first thing Monday morning. He had no idea how he would return to Arizona. He said he did not even have time to book his return flight.

"Went to my place in Atlanta," said James, who played at Immokalee High and then the University of Miami, where he met Taylor. "Stayed there for a couple of hours. Didn't sleep. Then I got ready at 5. Left at about 6:20. I got here at 8 a.m. I haven't even slept 30 minutes yet.

"Hey, every University of Miami player was here pretty much," James said. That showed a lot of respect. Everybody came out. That's what was big. This is where I wanted to be. This is where I needed to be."

Notable speakers

A montage of highlight videos greeted an audience that began filing into the arena at 10 a.m. Although the service was scheduled to begin at 11, the first remarks weren't delivered until 11:45.

Notables in the audience included O.J. Simpson, former Redskin Joe Theismann and actor Andy Garcia. Garcia is an uncle of Taylor's girlfriend of six years and the mother of Taylor's 18-month-old daughter, Jackie Garcia.

Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke as part of the service.

"It's times like this that make all of us struggle to find the meaning in life," Goodell said. "The NFL is proud of Sean Taylor. He loved football, and football loved him back. But more important is what he was as a man, and what he was becoming as a man."

Before the service, former University of Miami safety Rodney Bellinger expressed his respect for Taylor, who played the same position at Miami.

"Guys who make that kind of money, they become automatic targets," said Bellinger, a member of the 1983 national title team. "They need to be protected. I feel there are several reasons why Sean is gone. He had no protection, and you had guys who preyed on someone who was defenseless.

"These players, they know they need to change their lifestyle. They need to quit hanging out with their homeboys from the neighborhood. But these kids, they need protection. Society has changed."

Another former Hurricanes defender, linebacker James Burgess, now works in Florida City at a juvenile detention center.

"It was a wonderful service," said Burgess, who played at Miami in 1993-97. "It was surprising to see the amount of people there. That lets you know how much love he gave to the Washington Redskins, the University of Miami, Gulliver.

"We just need more people getting out into the community and letting people know that violence isn't the answer. Not just former athletes, but police officers, lawyers. We can't change everybody. But hopefully we can change some of the people who need to be changed. We all live in this world together. We're all one people. We have to come together as one."

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