Monday, May 12, 2008

No death penalty for Sean Taylor murder suspects

Eric Rivera, 18


Miami-Dade prosecutors have waived the death penalty against the four suspects accused of murdering former Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor.

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

They will still face the possibility of life in prison, but Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin sent notice to the defendants' attorneys late Friday he won't be seeking to kill them for the alleged crimes, said Hunte's attorney, Michael Hornung.

"They didn't leave Fort Myers with the intentions to shoot anyone or kill anyone," Hornung said. "They were going to make sure that person would lie down at gunpoint."

On Nov. 26, Miami-Dade police said, the four drove to Taylor's house. When they arrived, they broke into the Washington Redskins safety's house intending to burglarize it. But Taylor, 24, was at home with his wife and child, recovering from a sprained right knee.

The former Pro Bowl safety was shot in the leg and died of blood loss the next day.
According to Rivera's statement to investigators, five people drove to the house that night in a rented SUV, but only four arrests have been made.

Rivera, who was implicated as the shooter according to a grand jury indictment, was 17 at the time of the crime and wouldn't have been eligible for the death penalty under Florida law.

That complicated the process for prosecutors, Hornung said.

"It has a bad appearance to it," he said of seeking death against the non-shooters and not the alleged shooter.

Also according to the indictment, Mitchell was in the house wearing a mask during the armed burglary. Other reports released to the public have indicated the suspects used a 9 mm gun to shoot open a sliding glass door at the house. Dive teams searched off Alligator Alley after the shooting, but haven't found a weapon.

According to information previously released by police, Mitchell attended a birthday party in September at Taylor's home. He stayed at the house for several days, doing work around the house to prepare for the part and was paid $300 in cash.

Mitchell said he saw Taylor give his sister, Sasha Johnson, $10,000 in a paper bag as a present. Johnson was dating Wardlow's nephew at the time.

Investigators believe greed was motive for the defendants making the three-hour drive to the East Coast.

All four defendants have an Aug. 25 trial date.

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