Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Guilty Plea In The Sean Taylor Case

Venjah Hunte (L) and Charles Wardlow (C) are seen via closed circuit television at the Lee County Justice Center in Fort Myers, Florida, December 1, 2007. Hunte, one of five defendants charged with the death of Washington Redskins NFL footballer Sean Taylor, faces a 29-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to second degree murder and armed burglary.

Venjah Hunte pleaded guilty to second degree murder and burglary charges for his role in the killing of Redskins star safety Sean Taylor and was handed a 29-year sentence, the first in what Taylor's family hopes will be a series on long sentences. Hunte was one of five men charged with first-degree murder in the case and he was accused driver of the car used to get to and from Taylor's home; Hunte agreed to testify against the others as part of the deal, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Richard Sharpstein, a Florida lawyer and Taylor family spokesperson, said the family worked closely with the state attorneys office during the plea process and believed the sentence - though not the life without parole being sought for all involved in the case - was sufficiently stern. Taylor's father, Pedro (called Pete by his friends), is a longtime police chief of Florida City, Florida.

"It appears on the surface that he's gotten a deal," Sharpstein said, "but he still serves at least 80 percent of the 29 years, which is a long stretch. It's no slap on the wrist. It's severe punishment and Pete and other family members were consulted and they approved the prosecutor's decision.

"Pete certainly understands the help that inside information gives to a case, and prosecutors always tend to look toward the lesser culpable people to solidify their case and have someone testifying from the inside. This is serve punishment, and with the others the family hopes each one as it goes along faces the most severe, harshest punishment they can receive."

A fifth suspect, Timothy Brown, 16, was charged with first-degree murder and armed burglary on Wednesday. Prosecutors recently waived their attempts to pursue the death penalty in this case citing restrictions regarding the age of the accused.

Jason Mitchell, Eric Rivera, Charles Wardlow are also charged in the case and trial is set for Aug. 25. Several defendants have been seeking plea deals, according to a source, but Hunte's 29-year sentence, given that he was not accused of entering the home, could become a baseline for the low-end of the sentencing structure.

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