MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Opening statements are scheduled to get underway Monday in the trial of the alleged trigger man in the murder of former University of Miami and NFL star Sean Taylor.
Eric Rivera Jr., 23, was one of five men accused of breaking into Taylor’s Palmetto Bay home in 2007. At the time the group, who drove to the Miami area from Ft. Myers, were all teenagers.
Investigators said the group, who thought the home was empty, was looking for a stash of cash.
What they didn’t know was that Taylor was at home nursing an injury instead of taking the field with his Washington Redskins teammates for a road game at Tampa.
When the 6-foot-2, 230-pound player — well known as a ferocious hitter — confronted them with a machete early on Nov. 26, 2007, Rivera allegedly fired two shots. One missed. The other hit Taylor in the upper leg, causing massive blood loss that led to his death a day later at age 24.
Because Rivera was only 17 at the time of the crime, he faces life in prison instead of the death penalty if convicted.
Early on in the case, the judge placed a gag order on everyone involved so few details including Rivera’s reported confession to investigators have been released.
One of men charged in the case, Venjah Hunte, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary charges and is expected to testify against Rivera. The other three are scheduled to go to trial later on lesser charges. Hunte’s plea deal calls for a 29-year prison term instead of life.
Police say two of the men charged had connections to Taylor. Jason Scott Mitchell had cut Taylor’s lawn and an older cousin of suspect Charles Wardlow had dated Taylor’s sister. Family members also said Mitchell had recently been at a birthday party at Taylor’s house, where Taylor was known to keep large amounts of cash.
Although Taylor had some run-ins with the law and been fined several times by the NFL for various rules violations, his future seemed extremely bright before he was killed. The son of Florida City Police Chief Pedro Taylor and an All-American player at the University of Miami, the Redskins drafted Taylor with the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft and he signed an $18 million contract.
Taylor quickly became a starter and was nicknamed “Meast” by teammates — a combination of man and beast — because of his hard-hitting style. He was named to the Pro Bowl after the 2006 season and was also very popular among Redskins players and fans. One of his best friends, wide receiver Santana Moss, said he still says “a little prayer” for Taylor every time he takes the field.
The Redskins contributed $500,000 to a fund for Taylor’s young daughter after he died and, in the first game after his slaying, the team’s defense took the field against Buffalo with only 10 players on the first play — leaving Taylor’s free safety position vacant to honor him.
To many fans, players and others connected with both the Redskins and the “U” at Miami, it was heartbreaking to see such a talented player’s life and career cut short so brutally.
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