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Sean Taylor Murder Trial Finally Begins

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Eric Rivera Jr. in court. (Source: CBS4)

Eric Rivera Jr. in court. (Source: CBS4)

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A videotaped confession by the alleged trigger man in the murder of former University of Miami and NFL star Sean Taylor six years was focus point Monday morning during opening arguments of his trial.

During his opening statement Assistant State Attorney Ray Araujo told the 12 jurors and four alternates that Eric Rivera Jr., 23, voluntarily spoke with detectives without an attorney present about how he shot Taylor while he and four friends attempted to burglarize the football star’s Palmetto Bay home.

Rivera even drew diagrams of the rooms and where everyone was at the time, Araujo said.

“He describes in detail the plan, how they carried it out, who was involved, everything,” Araujo said. “This defendant confessed to the murder of Sean Taylor, that he committed it.”

Rivera’s attorney, Janese Caruthers, countered that Rivera was coerced into the confession. Caruthers said he was “ambushed” by a team of investigators who had little evidence and was looking for someone to take the fall in a high-pressure case.

“They forced him to confess to a crime that he did not commit,” Caruthers said.

Taylor, who was 24 when he died, was a Pro Bowl safety for the Redskins.

Prosecutors say Rivera and four others, all from the Fort Myers area, thought Taylor would be with the Redskins at a game at Tampa Bay the night they broke into his house — but instead he was home with a knee injury.

The prosecution detailed how the hard-hitting 6’2″, 230 pound safety grabbed a machete to try and defend his girlfriend and baby.

“He (Taylor) grabs a machete and tells her to stay in bed,” prosecutor Reid Ruben said. “He walks towards his bedroom door; not knowing who or what was waiting on him on the other side. It’s at that moment, that this defendant, Eric Rivera, gun in his hand, kicks the door open.”

Ruben continued, “and when that happens, Sean Taylor, machete in his hand is standing there and is shot.”

“I heard a really loud noise, gun shots, scream like ‘Ahhhh.’,” testified Taylor’s girlfriend Jackie Garcia who was in the master bedroom with the couple’s child.  “I hid under the covers.”

“Where was your daughter,” asked the prosecutor.

“Next to me,” replied Garcia.

Garcia said she didn’t see Rivera the night of the shooting and tried to get help.

“I ran outside screanming, told them someone was dying, to please hurry,” said Garcia.

Taylor was shot in the upper thigh, which severed his femoral artery. He died the next day from massive blood loss.

Members of Taylor’s family, including his father, Florida City Police Chief Pedro Taylor, took up nearly an entire row in the packed Miami-Dade County courtroom.

In addition to the confession, Araujo said trial evidence will show cellphones belonging to the suspects were tracked near Taylor’s house and along Alligator Alley, the route they allegedly took to and from the crime. Police also found a footprint at Taylor’s home that matched the sneakers Rivera was wearing that night, the prosecutor said.

Araujo said investigators zeroed in on Rivera and the others because some in the group had been to Taylor’s home before, once for a birthday party for his sister in which Taylor was seen giving her $10,000 cash. The Fort Myers group, Araujo said, thought there was a great deal of cash in Taylor’s house.

“They had a plan and they carried it out. This was a burglary that turned into a murder,” the prosecutor said.

One of the other four suspects, Venjah Hunte, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary charges and could testify against Rivera. The other three are scheduled to go on trial later.

Because Rivera was 17 at the time of the crime, his maximum possible sentence if convicted is life in prison rather than the death penalty.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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