Sunday, December 9, 2007

Taylor’s alleged shooter lucky he is under 18

By Sam Cook
Originally published on December 09, 2007

There is a faint possibility defendants Charles Wardlow, Jason Mitchell and Venjah Hunte could get death sentences for their roles in the first-degree felony murder and armed burglary of NFL star Sean Taylor.

A very faint possibility.

Yet, wouldn't it be absurd if the defendants were sentenced to die, yet Taylor's accused killer Eric Rivera Jr., 17, was spared lethal injection?

Such is Florida law.

Such is the absurdity of the slaying of Taylor, a Washington Redskins safety and former University of Miami standout.

Such is the numbers game.

Rivera, a juvenile born April 4, 1990, who will be tried as an adult, isn't eligible for the death penalty. Wardlow, 18, Mitchell, 19, and Hunte, 20, are eligible.

A Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office spokesman called discussion of the death penalty premature last week.

Numbers or not, there is no way the adult defendants will get death, says Fort Myers defense attorney John Mills.

"It's not going to happen,'' says Mills, 43, one of a few lawyers in Southwest Florida qualified to handle the complexity of death-penalty cases.

"It's called proportionality. If the shooter is not sentenced to death, how can you sentence the accomplices to death?''

A Miami grand jury alleged Rivera shot the machete-wielding Taylor after confronting him in Taylor's bedroom on Nov. 26 in a Miami suburb. He died the next day. The intruders targeted Taylor's house for burglary because they didn't believe he was home.

The "Excuse Me Murder'' is an appropriate title for Taylor's senseless death at 24.

"It's not like he pumped six bullets into the guy's heart,'' Mills says." It was arguably a defense shot from a guy being attacked with a machete.

"For a death penalty to be sustained on appeal, you have to have aggravating circumstances. You can't prove the shot was intended to kill. It's a shot to the leg. You don't have aggravating circumstances.''

Although the indictment alleged Rivera was the gunman and Mitchell wore a hood to conceal his identity, it didn't clarify the roles of Wardlow and Hunte. All are scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 21, after which more information about the killing will be released.

If participation by Wardlow and Hunte was minimal, — as their attorneys David Brener and Michael Hornung, respectively, attest — Mills says plea deals may be on the table.

"They might get offers of 30 to 40 years in prison to testify against the shooter and the co-defendant,'' Mills says. "The two guys (Rivera and Mitchell) who had been there before (during a Nov. 18 break-in at Taylor's home) probably are not going to get a deal.''

If there is no deal, Rivera and Mitchell will get life in prison.

That is a long time when you are a teenager, which begs a question about the crime.

Why would the young suspects, three from east Fort Myers and Mitchell from Lehigh Acres, rob Taylor, a football player they admired and idolized?

"Convenience,'' says John Kemmerer, a middle- and high-school teacher in Lee County for 28 years. "The kids will steal from anyone. Even friends. They don't care who you are.''

It made no difference Taylor was an All-Pro player.

The suspects took the approach: "No offense, Sean. It's just business as usual for us. Don't take it personally.''

Kemmerer, who teaches at Mariner Middle, says opportunity was there, so the suspects took it without knocking.

"The way they see it: Taylor's got more money than he needs,'' he says. "He'll never figure out it was us. Next time we see him, he's still our buddy.''

Kemmerer says he taught Wardlow's father, Vince, at Riverdale High in the 1980s. Vince Wardlow, 37, is serving a life sentence for the 2006 shooting death of his cousin.

"The parents aren't any good,'' says Kemmerer, 59. "There's no getting around it. It's a damn shame.

"The worst thing about teaching is you know somewhere down the road you'll see guys like them in jail or dead.''

These four thugs are lucky.

It looks like jail over death.

— Sam Cook's column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Call 335-0384 or fax 334-0708.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hate reading about old friends that are still in a life of crime. Just out of the blue I decided to look up Vince Wardlow.I met this guy at FCI Petersburg,Va. It is so weird of those who had a plan to straighten out their life after a major drug conviction, and read about them years later still in crime. My grandmother's last words was" to change my life.'We all didn't turn out bad. I'm a manager at a large utility company with kids in college. My dad told me as a young kid, " that you can be anyone you want to be until someone pulls up that knows you." He was also famous for saying "mind over matter." Guess if you dont mind ruining your life then it doesn't matter." Wardlow what a fool.I'm disappointed. Elijah Muhammad always taught,"know yourself" and then "change yourself. Thanks to the teachings.