MIAMI – Four young men charged with unpremeditated murder in the shooting death of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor have not been strangers to police. Still, nothing came close to what they faced Saturday.
Eric Rivera, 17; Charles Wardlow, 18; Jason Mitchell, 19; and Venjah Hunte, 20, were charged with Taylor's slaying, home invasion with a firearm or another deadly weapon and armed burglary. Police said the suspects were looking for a simple burglary, but it turned bloody when they were startled to find Taylor home.
"They're terrified," said Sawyer Smith, who along with his father, Wilbur, represent Rivera and Mitchell. "These are young boys who are absolutely terrified about the position in which they find themselves."
Police and attorneys for two suspects have said some of the young men confessed, though they wouldn't elaborate. All were arrested Friday in southwest Florida, about 100 miles from here, and all but Mitchell had their first court appearance Saturday and were denied bond. Mitchell was expected to have a hearing at 8:30 a.m. Sunday.
Taylor, the 24-year-old Pro Bowl safety, died Tuesday, one day after being shot at his home in an affluent Miami suburb.
"It's more than greed. Greed is one thing," said Richard Sharpstein, Taylor's former attorney. "They're looking for a quick hit, a couple of thousand bucks here, a couple of thousand there. And for what?"
John Evans, the attorney representing Wardlow, said it's likely all four suspects will be transported to Miami on Sunday. He said his client was reflecting on the gravity of the charges he faces.
"My client has not, I don't think, come to terms with what is being alleged," Evans said. "He's in a position, dressed in the orange jumpsuit over there in the county jail, thinking about his life and thinking about his future. You can only imagine the things going through his mind now."
Wilbur Smith told The News-Press of Fort Myers that because of the confessions, he expects the case to be resolved quickly.
The suspects all have prior arrests, according to Lee County Sheriff's Office records.
Wardlow was arrested twice for selling marijuana and once for grand theft of a vehicle, and Hunte was arrested previously this year on drug and trespassing charges.
Mitchell has been arrested twice, most recently in October on charges of driving with a suspended license and violation of probation. Rivera was arrested in October for trafficking cocaine and methamphetamine, and he previously was behind bars for altering the identification number on a firearm.
On Rivera's MySpace page, he posed for pictures lying in bed with $100 bills strewn atop him and fanning a wad of cash in front of his face. The page is wallpapered with images of money, the text atop it green. The 17-year-old sandwiches his alias, Mr. Florida, between dollar signs and lists counting money among his interests.
Rivera last logged onto his MySpace page sometime Friday, when he rated his mood with an off-color word for angry.
Sharpstein said he had spoken with Taylor's father since the arrests. Though the family was appreciative police had worked so effectively, he said the news provided little relief. A massive public viewing was planned for Sunday in Miami, with the funeral the following day.
"The arrest of Sean's killer provides no comfort or solace to Sean's family," Sharpstein said. "They are grieving and haven't buried their son, boyfriend and father yet."
Early Monday, Taylor and his longtime girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, were awakened by loud noises at his home. He grabbed a machete for protection, but within moments, someone broke through the bedroom door and fired two shots, one hitting Taylor in the upper leg.
Neither the couple's 18-month-old daughter, also named Jackie, nor Garcia were injured.
The bullet damaged the femoral artery in Taylor's leg, causing significant blood loss. He never regained consciousness and died early Tuesday.
Police remain tightlipped about how the suspects wound up at Taylor's home. The Miami Herald reported Mitchell cut the player's lawn and did other chores at the house and that Taylor's sister Sasha dates Wardlow's cousin. The Naples Daily News quoted a woman who identified herself as Jason Mitchell's mother as saying her son was at a birthday party at Taylor's home within the past two months.
Sharpstein said Taylor's sister had a 21st birthday party at her brother's home on Thanksgiving weekend.
In Fort Myers, a woman who identified herself as Wardlow's grandmother but declined to give her name defended the accused. "He's a sweet young man," she said. "I love him to death, and that's it."
Bennie Williams, a neighbor to Wardlow's cousin, said he had seen Taylor's sister Sasha in the area recently.
"She was here all last week for the holidays," he said.
Miami-Dade police wouldn't confirm any of the possible links.
Authorities also haven't said whether they've linked the suspects to a break-in at Taylor's home eight days before the shooting. In that incident, someone pried open a front window, rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed.
Police say they're sure, however, that the four suspects didn't expect to kill anyone.
"They were expecting a residence that was not occupied," Miami-Dade County police Director Robert Parker said. "So murder or shooting someone was not their initial motive."
Money, police said, was.