Suspect withdrawing change of plea

MIAMI -- The only suspect to plead guilty so far in the slaying of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor told a judge Friday he is abandoning an effort to withdraw his plea.

Venjah Hunte, 21, made the decision after a private meeting with his attorney and his mother, who burst into loud sobs when he was led into the courtroom by jail personnel.

At a brief hearing, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy asked Hunte if he still insisted on pursuing his motion to withdraw guilty pleas to second-degree murder and burglary charges.

"No sir, we're not going to go forward," Hunte replied.

Hunte had claimed he did not fully understand the requirements of his plea deal, in which he agreed to testify against his four co-defendants in exchange for a 29-year prison sentence. If he had gone to trial, Hunte would have faced life behind bars.

Taylor, an All-Pro safety who starred in college at the University of Miami, died of massive blood loss after he was shot in the upper thigh during a botched burglary attempt in November 2007 at his Miami-area home. Trial for the five suspects, all from the Fort Myers area, is scheduled for Jan. 18.

None of Hunte's family members would comment after the hearing. But his former attorney, Michael Hornung, said he believed the plea agreement was in Hunte's best interests.

"When you look at the math ... it's 29 years or two life terms," Hornung said. "The plea offer in my opinion is a very fair and reasonable plea offer."

Hunte insisted to police that he never went inside Taylor's house and was not involved in the shooting, according to court documents. Statements to police from other suspects indicate they were enticed to commit the crime after one of them attended a birthday party at the home and saw large sums of cash there.

Prosecutors and Hunte's current attorney are prevented from discussing the case publicly because of a gag order issued by Murphy.

The other defendants are alleged triggerman Eric Rivera Jr., 19; Timmy Lee Brown, 18; Jason Mitchell, 21; and Charles Wardlow, 20. All have pleaded not guilty and are jailed without bail.