Court Cases

Sean Taylor Murder Possible Independent Act of Defense by Cheng Sio - CG Gazette

Sean Taylor 1983-2007 Suspect seeks deal, family, friends mourn loss.

Four suspects have been arrested and a possible fifth suspect may still be on the loose, but according to reports, the alleged shooter, 17-year old Eric Rivera, is seeking a plea deal with prosecutors for the death of Sean Taylor. “When the State Attorney’s Office is ready, we would like to sit down and begin discussion with them so we can move towards a resolution in the case that has the best interest of all parties in mind,” Sawyer Smith, Rivera’s attorney, said in a published report. “We want to minimize the impact of case resolution on the Taylor family and find a result that’s in the best interest of justice.”

On Dec. 4, Smith said that there was a possible fifth suspect. However, when asked about the fifth’s suspect involvement, both Smith and Linda O’Brien, Miami-Dade County Police Spokeswoman, declined comment. The other three suspects in the death of Taylor are Charles Wardlow, 18, Jason Mitchell, 19, and Venjah Hunte, 20. All four defendants have been indicted by the grand jury on charges of first-degree felony murder and armed robbery. Wardlow, Mitchell and Hunte are in jail and under suicide watch. Of the quartet, Hunte was the only suspect with a valid driver’s license and was behind the wheel of the vehicle at least part of the time from Fort Myers to Miami. However, Hunte wasn’t behind the wheel when the suspects arrived at Taylor’s house.

“The only time he knew what was going on was when he heard two gunshots,” Hunte’s attorney Michael Hornung stated. Hornung said Hunte didn’t know what happened and that when he heard the two gunshots, Hunte was surprised and, in effect, froze. As for the possible fifth suspect, Hornung said, “We’ve been the one that’s probably been the most consistent. Law enforcement has never discussed a fifth suspect with me or my client.” Hornung also noted that since indictments were handed down, it was clear that his client wasn’t the shooter, his client didn’t wear a mask covering his face and that his client wasn’t an overtly active participant in the death of Taylor.

As for Wardlow, his attorney, David A. Brener, said, “I think I’m going to try this case in court and not in the media. My client is innocent until proven guilty. Mr. Wardlow is not suicidal and does not need to be portrayal in that protective suit in front of the camera.” Brener also added, “Mr. Wardlow was not armed and did not shoot Mr. Taylor. And he was not aware Mr. Rivera was carrying a pistol and therefore should not be held responsible for Mr. Rivera’s acts.”

While the suspects await trial, thousands of family members, friends and fans of Taylor gathered at his funeral on Dec. 3 at Florida International University’s Pharmed Arena. Among the many personalities to pay their respects at Taylor’s funeral were former University of Miami head coach Larry Coker, actor Andy Garcia (his niece is Jackie Garcia, fiancé of Taylor) and O.J. Simpson. Also, at least 40 former Canes were present, which included Jonathan Vilma and Frank Gore.

The Washington Redskins, Taylor’s former team, brought every member of their organization to Miami to pay tribute to their fallen teammate. Before the proceedings began, a video of Taylor’s highlights as a football player and a person was played on two projector screens. Highlights of the video included Taylor scoring on a 50-yard touchdown interception return against archrival Florida State and him knocking down Redskin teammate Marcus Washington via a head-butt on a celebration.

The funeral began with Pastor Doctor Alphonso Jackson III saying, “Sean is gone, but he will never ever be forgotten.”  Minutes later, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke and said, “It’s been a sad week for the NFL family. It’s times like this that all of us struggle to find meaning in life.” But the highlight of the proceedings came next when Rev. Jesse Jackson’s eulogy began with, “The love you have for Sean, what he means to all of us, on your feet and show your love. Put your hands together.”

Everyone got up and gave a standing ovation that lasted an entire minute. Jackson continued on with his eulogy and spoke about putting an end to violence. “We’ve become much too violent. We’ve accepted violence as the norm. It is the norm but it is not natural, it is uncivilized. It must be rejected. We need a new game plan, a stronger defense. We need a smarter offense to make us safe and more secure. We can win the right to safety and security, the ultimate Super Bowl,” Jackson said. “If we turn our pain today into new resolve to put out this fire, to put an end to the false premise that more guns make us safer. Kill the idea of killing as a solution to the conflict. The ground is no place for a champion. Rise up champions, choose nonviolence over nonexistence. If we turn tragedy into triumph, his death will not be in vain.”

Many who spoke of Taylor talked about his phenomenal athletic prowess. “Sean was our first draft choice,” said Redskins’ coach Joe Gibbs. “I thought many times over that four years how many times God must have looked down and said, ‘Man, I made a great football player’. “For me personally, I want to play on Sean’s team.”

“You’re the best that I ever coached,” Redskins’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said in a video montage. “Sean Taylor was born to play football. Sean ran over, around and through (his competition),” said Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace. “If the Lord wants to set up a first class all-star football team in heaven, I think he’s all set at safety for eternity.” Later, Wallace had a message for the media.

“One of the things that I hope comes out of this tragic incident is the media getting a small lesson in grace and humility,” Wallace expressed. “For those who took the liberty of recklessly speculating that this young man’s death was caused by the way he lived, all I can say is they should be ashamed.” Wallace received two separate standing ovations for his remark.

As great of a football player Taylor was, others thought of him as a man who loved his family.“Sean was the best big brother anyone can have or ask for,” an emotional Jazmin Taylor, Sean’s younger sister, said. “I have the best memories about him and those are the ones I will cherish forever.” “When you look up the word family, you’ll see Sean Taylor smiling in the dictionary,” Canes’ head coach Randy Shannon stated. “(I) always looked after him, he always looked after me because we always had that bond. I want to let everybody know in this room today that you’re a part of this family. You’re part of the Taylor family, the Garcia family, the Redskins’ family and the University of Miami Hurricanes’ family.”

As loving as Taylor was with his family, he was just as good as a friend. “If you had your head down, he’s gonna pick it up quick. He would always be there no matter what,” said best friend and Redskins’ running back Clinton Portis. “The first night I ever missed my curfew, I was with Sean. My father, who happened to be (Gulliver’s) defensive coordinator and a tough one at that, called Sean’s phone to let him know I missed curfew. Well, when Sean took me to my house…he didn’t quite take me to my house. He dropped me off a block away, and it’s not a small block. I was walking for quite a ways,” said former Gulliver and Hurricane teammate Buck Ortega.

Others just simply wanted to give thanks to Taylor and tell him how much they were going to miss him.“I’m going to miss him with all my heart. I love him. I thought when he came to the Redskins, I was his guardian angel. And in the way events went, as God will have it, he turned out to be one of mine. So today, my heart is broken,” weeped former Redskin teammate LaVar Arrington. “Thanks for being a hero and giving your life to protect Jackie (Sean’s wife) and Jackie (Sean’s 18-month old daughter),” cried Taylor’s agent Drew Rosenhaus. “I would also like to thank you Sean, thank you for loving my sister the way you did. Thank you for the integrity and the humbleness you never fail to show. It’s a funny thing how God always seems to take the special ones too soon. He clearly needed you,” said a sobbing Carolina Garcia, Jackie Garcia’s sister.

Taylor died on Nov. 27, a day after he was shot in the leg in an attempted robbery. The bullet that hit Taylor damaged the femoral artery causing significant blood loss.According to family friend Richard Sharpstein, who learned the details from Garcia, Taylor and his girlfriend were awakened by loud noises.Taylor then grabbed a machete that he keeps in the bedroom for protection. Someone broke through the bedroom door and fired two shots, one missing and one hitting Taylor. Taylor’s daughter, Jackie, nor Garcia were injured in the attack.

Last Sunday, the Redskins honored Taylor by trotting out 10 defensive players –- instead of the usual 11 — and leaving Taylor’s replacement, Reed Doughty, on the sidelines on the Redskins’ first defensive play of the game against Buffalo Bills.