MIAMI -- Four young men charged with unpremeditated murder
in the shooting death of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor have
not been strangers to police. Still, nothing came close to what
they faced Saturday.
Eric Rivera, 17; Charles Wardlow, 18; Jason Mitchell, 19; and
Venjah Hunte, 20, were charged with Taylor's slaying, home invasion
with a firearm or another deadly weapon and armed burglary. Police
said the suspects were looking for a simple burglary, but it turned
bloody when they were startled to find Taylor home.
"They're terrified," said Sawyer Smith, who along with his
father, Wilbur, represent Rivera and Mitchell. "These are young
boys who are absolutely terrified about the position in which they
young men confessed, though they wouldn't elaborate. All were
arrested Friday in southwest Florida, about 100 miles from here,
and all but Mitchell had their first court appearance Saturday and
were denied bond. Mitchell was expected to have a hearing at 8:30
Taylor, the 24-year-old Pro Bowl safety, died Tuesday, one day
after being shot at his home in an affluent Miami suburb.
Sharpstein, Taylor's former attorney. "They're looking for a quick
hit, a couple of thousand bucks here, a couple of thousand there.
And for what?"
John Evans, the attorney representing Wardlow, said it's likely
all four suspects will be transported to Miami on Sunday. He said
his client was reflecting on the gravity of the charges he faces.
"My client has not, I don't think, come to terms with what is
being alleged," Evans said. "He's in a position, dressed in the
orange jumpsuit over there in the county jail, thinking about his
life and thinking about his future. You can only imagine the things
going through his mind now."
Wilbur Smith told The News-Press of Fort Myers that because of
the confessions, he expects the case to be resolved quickly.
The suspects all have prior arrests, according to Lee County
Sheriff's Office records.
Wardlow was arrested twice for selling marijuana and once for
grand theft of a vehicle, and Hunte was arrested previously this
year on drug and trespassing charges.
Mitchell has been arrested twice, most recently in October on
charges of driving with a suspended license and violation of
probation. Rivera was arrested in October for trafficking cocaine
and methamphetamine, and he previously was behind bars for altering
the identification number on a firearm.
On Rivera's MySpace page, he posed for pictures lying in bed
with $100 bills strewn atop him and fanning a wad of cash in front
of his face. The page is wallpapered with images of money, the text
atop it green. The 17-year-old sandwiches his alias, Mr. Florida,
between dollar signs and lists counting money among his interests.
Rivera last logged onto his MySpace page sometime Friday, when
he rated his mood with an off-color word for angry.
Sharpstein said he had spoken with Taylor's father since the
arrests. Though the family was appreciative police had worked so
effectively, he said the news provided little relief. A massive
public viewing was planned for Sunday in Miami, with the funeral
the following day.
"The arrest of Sean's killer provides no comfort or solace to
Sean's family," Sharpstein said. "They are grieving and haven't
buried their son, boyfriend and father yet."
Early Monday, Taylor and his longtime girlfriend, Jackie Garcia,
were awakened by loud noises at his home. He grabbed a machete for
protection, but within moments, someone broke through the bedroom
door and fired two shots, one hitting Taylor in the upper leg.
Neither the couple's 18-month-old daughter, also named Jackie,
nor Garcia were injured.
The bullet damaged the femoral artery in Taylor's leg, causing
significant blood loss. He never regained consciousness and died
Police remain tightlipped about how the suspects wound up at
Taylor's home. The Miami Herald reported Mitchell cut the player's
lawn and did other chores at the house and that Taylor's sister
Sasha dates Wardlow's cousin. The Naples Daily News quoted a woman
who identified herself as Jason Mitchell's mother as saying her son
was at a birthday party at Taylor's home within the past two
Sharpstein said Taylor's sister had a 21st birthday party at her
brother's home on Thanksgiving weekend.
In Fort Myers, a woman who identified herself as Wardlow's
grandmother but declined to give her name defended the accused.
"He's a sweet young man," she said. "I love him to death, and
Bennie Williams, a neighbor to Wardlow's cousin, said he had
seen Taylor's sister Sasha in the area recently.
"She was here all last week for the holidays," he said.
Miami-Dade police wouldn't confirm any of the possible links.
Authorities also haven't said whether they've linked the
suspects to a break-in at Taylor's home eight days before the
shooting. In that incident, someone pried open a front window,
rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed.
Police say they're sure, however, that the four suspects didn't
expect to kill anyone.
"They were expecting a residence that was not occupied,"
Miami-Dade County police Director Robert Parker said. "So murder
or shooting someone was not their initial motive."
Money, police said, was.