Court Cases

Brener Minimizes Clients Involvement In Football Star Murder by Unknown

Attorney: Taylor suspects almost fled before shooting.

MIAMI — The burglary that led to the shooting death of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor almost didn’t happen when one suspect heard a noise and wanted to flee, an attorney close to the case said Friday. But the lawyer, Richard Sharpstein, said the alleged triggerman told police he was the cause of the noise and talked the others into continuing, leading to a confrontation early Nov. 26 that ended with a machete-wielding Taylor fatally shot. “It was a botched burglary all along. It’s senseless, mindless and tragic,” said Sharpstein, who has acted as a Taylor family spokesman and once represented Taylor in an unrelated case.

Sharpstein, a veteran Miami defense attorney, said his information came from unreleased statements to police given by the four suspects in the case. They are being held without bail and face arraignment on murder and other charges Dec. 21. Those statements, Sharpstein said, indicate 19-year-old Jason Mitchell and 17-year-old Eric Rivera Jr. went to the house while the other two — Venjah K. Hunte, 20, and Charles Wardlow, 18 — stayed outside, where there was a getaway car. The four are all from the Fort Myers area on the state’s southwest coast, more than 100 miles from Miami.

At some point, Mitchell got spooked by noises and ran out of Taylor’s house but was persuaded to return by Rivera, who said it was he who had caused the noise. Mitchell and Rivera apparently had been involved in an earlier burglary at Taylor’s home, Sharpstein said. Eight days before the shooting, someone pried open a front window at Taylor’s home, rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed. The Washington Post first reported the burglary was nearly called off.

Mitchell attorney Landon Miller said he was aware of Sharpstein’s comments but added: “I’ve never heard that from the prosecutor or from law enforcement.” Miller said he could not confirm the account. Hunte’s attorney, Michael F. Hornung, said authorities apparently are investigating the possible theft of money and memorabilia from that earlier Taylor break-in. But he said Hunte had no involvement in that crime and did not enter Taylor’s home the night of the shooting. “He was outside the home, he was never in the home, nor was he waiting in the car for the other individuals,” Hornung said. “My client was not within the distance — the range — to hear anything, nor did he communicate with the co-defendants.”

Rivera attorney Sawyer Smith declined comment. Wardlow’s attorney, David A. Brener, said his understanding from police was that his client tried to convince the group to leave when the noise was heard. “I will confirm that the allegation is that Mr. Wardlow attempted to persuade the others to leave the premises, and he in fact did leave the premises,” Brener said, adding that Wardlow was not inside the house when the shooting occurred and did not know anyone had a gun. Rivera attorney Sawyer Smith declined comment. The attorney for Wardlow did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Investigators have said the suspects did not expect Taylor to be at home the night of the burglary, but he was not with the Redskins because he had suffered a knee injury and was allowed to return to Miami. Taylor’s girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, and their 18-month-old daughter were also at home that night but were not injured.