Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Alleged accomplices in Taylor killing could face harsh penalties

By Pat Gillespie
Originally posted on December 04, 2007

Miami police have charged four Lee County men in the death of NFL star Sean Taylor, and under Florida law — even if only one person shot Taylor — all may suffer the consequences.

Charles Wardlow, 18, Eric Rivera Jr., 17, Venjah Hunte, 20, all of Fort Myers, and Jason Scott Mitchell, 19, of Lehigh Acres face first-degree murder, attempted armed robbery and armed burglary charges.

Taylor was shot in his Miami home Nov. 26 and died the next day.

State Attorney's Office felony division chief Kelly Worcester, who has no connection to the case, said the felony murder rule is designed to punish those who commit a felony while using a weapon and cause a person to die.

"What gets you there is your part in a felony and someone died," said Worcester, whose office is in Fort Myers. "That's the first thing they say: 'I didn't mean for that to happen.'"

If the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office seeks a grand jury indictment on first-degree murder against all four and chooses to seek the death penalty, Rivera could only face a life sentence because he was younger than 18 at the time of the crime.

Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office spokesman Ed Griffith said it's premature to discuss the death penalty.

The Miami-Dade office has a death penalty committee, as does Lee County, and reviews the facts of a case to determine what type of sentence the state attorney should seek.

"From our point of view, you don't preclude any options," Griffith said. "Whether the death penalty is sought or not depends on the circumstances of the crime."

Fort Myers attorney Wilbur Smith, who is representing Rivera, said he thinks Rivera's case could be resolved in a matter of months. He said public pressure and the fact that Taylor's father, Pedro, is the police chief in Florida City could cause prosecutors to move the case quickly.

"This case could be resolved in 30 days," he said. "There's a lot of factors that will control this case."

Smith said he predicts Rivera's case could end in a plea, but he wouldn't say whether Rivera was the person who shot Taylor.

Sawyer Smith, Wilbur Smith's son and Mitchell's attorney, said Mitchell's case could be handled quickly as well.

"This is not the type of thing where we're going to get on the courthouse steps," he said. "Right now, we're mostly concerned with not further impacting the Taylor family."

Fort Myers attorney David Brener, who represents Wardlow, said he is preparing as if the case will go to trial. He said he will speak with prosecutors about a plea deal when the time comes.

"Whether that's going to happen or not remains to be seen," he said.

Fort Myers attorney Michael Hornung, who represents Hunte, said his client understands the law means he could face life in prison or death, if convicted.

"That's what concerns Mr. Hunte at this time," Hornung said. "He's well aware of how serious these crimes are."

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