Court Cases

Brener Sets The Record Straight In Football Star Murder by Peter Whoriskey & Shipley Washington

MIAMI, Dec. 3 — Police are investigating a fifth suspect in the slaying of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor, sources close to the case said Monday. The fifth suspect is a 16-year-old who drove the group’s car away from Taylor’s home early Nov. 26 after the free safety had been fatally shot, a source said. The fifth suspect is related to one of the four men already in custody, said the source, who declined to be identified by name. “We feel confident that there is a fifth suspect,” said Wilbur Smith, an attorney for Eric Rivera, one of the four men already in custody. “We don’t know if he’s on the run or if he is cooperating. I confirmed it through law enforcement sources.”

A spokesman for Miami-Dade police would only confirm that investigators are not “ruling out” the possibility of more arrests in the case. The revelations came on a day when about 3,000 people gathered to pay final respects to Taylor at a funeral held at Florida International University’s Pharmed Arena. According to police and family sources, Taylor was shot after burglars broke into his home. Apparently unaware that anyone was there, the burglars were startled by Taylor, who was wielding a machete. One of the men fired twice. One shot hit a wall and another struck Taylor’s femoral artery. After a massive loss of blood, he died the next day.

New details in the break-in continued to seep out Monday as police released a probable cause affidavit and defense attorneys began their investigations. Individually, the defense teams are trying to distance their clients from any knowledge that a gun was being used in the burglary, a strategy that could help fend off a felony murder charge. Under felony murder rules, a defendant may be liable for murder even if he did not pull the trigger.

The new details suggest that the burglary was a haphazard affair characterized by amateur mistakes and confusion. An attorney for one of the four men arrested said his client had been “recruited” to drive the burglars, all from the Fort Myers area, to the Miami suburb where Taylor has a home. He was the only one with a valid Florida driver’s license, the attorney said. “He was outside the house when this incident took place,” said Michael F. Hornung, an attorney for Venjah K. Hunte, one of the four men arrested in the case. “He was never aware of any firearm until he heard two shots.”

Hunte did not drive after the shooting, Hornung said. The men climbed over the wall protecting Taylor’s yard without using gloves, a source said, possibly leaving fingerprints. Once inside Taylor’s home, the burglars heard a door slam, yelling and then were confronted by Taylor, who was wielding a machete, according to the source, who added, “this wasn’t a crack team, just a bunch of teens.” Previous accounts said the burglars had kicked in the door to Taylor’s bedroom. “The first thing [my client] wanted to express is his deepest condolences to the Taylor family,” Hornung said. “He is very concerned and remorseful that the Taylors had to bury their son today.”

An attorney for Charles Wardlow, David A. Brener, said he was talking to reporters only to counter what he considers prejudicial pretrial publicity from police sources, who have said they’d collected “confessions” from the defendants. Three of the four men in custody have been transferred from the Lee County jail to Miami-Dade County jail.

Jason Mitchell, Rivera and Wardlow have all given statements to the police, according to arrest affidavits or attorneys familiar with them. Wardlow “was not armed, did not know that any of the other perpetrators were armed and did not shoot Mr. Taylor,” Brener said. “It is a defense to a felony murder charge that the defendant was not fully aware of all aspects of the plan — especially as it concerns using weapons.”