Published December 03, 2007
MIAMI – Little more than a week ago, Sean Taylor was home, rehabbing a knee injury so he could get back to the Washington Redskins.
Now, thousands began filling a university arena Monday for the slain NFL safety's funeral, a week after he was shot in his home and days after four men were charged with killing him during the robbery. A lawyer for one of the suspects confirmed there was a fifth suspect.
A line of black cars and sport utility vehicles brought Taylor's family to the funeral. The Rev. Jesse Jackson stood with the athlete's father, Florida City police Chief Pedro Taylor. Actor Andy Garcia was also there. His niece, Jackie Garcia, was Taylor's girlfriend and was in the home when he was shot.
Former Hurricanes coaches Larry Coker and Butch Davis sat in the front row, along with current coach Randy Shannon. The Redskins organization filled one section of the gymnasium.
Taylor's casket was surrounded by bouquets. Behind it, a large video screen showed highlights of Taylor's playing career with the Redskins, Miami Hurricanes and high school.
O.J. Simpson was among those at the funeral. Wearing a suit and sunglasses, he called Taylor a "complete athlete."
"He was just a great athlete, terrific guy," Simpson said as he walked into the Florida International University arena.
Another mourner arrived donning a Redskins jersey underneath his suit jacket.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said it had been a "sad week" for the league family.
"It's times like this that all of us struggle to find meaning in life," Goodell told the mourners. "The NFL was proud of Sean Taylor... He loved football and football loved him back. But more importantly, it was what he was as a man and what he was becoming as a man."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson took the podium and called for an end to violence.
"We are slow learners. We are in a hole looking for a shovel, when we need a rope," Jackson said.
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs spoke to Taylor's growing spirituality and his place in heaven.
"I think he's going to have 100-year football games," Gibbs said. "He had excitement for life and certainly he can still live forever. For me personally, I want to play on Sean's team."
Clinton Portis, a Redskins running back and close friend of Taylor's, said seeing Taylor tackle another player was invigorating, earning chuckles from the audience.
"It was exciting to have Sean on your team," Portis said. "He would always be there no matter what."
Portis also spoke to the change everyone saw Taylor undergo with his daughter's birth. "Sean was living for his child, living for his girl," he said.
"I never wanted you to leave, my heart that loves you will always grieve," said Taylor's sister Jazmin.
Meanwhile, four young men charged with killing Taylor sat in jail cells on the other side of the state in Fort Myers. The suspects are expected to be transported to Miami sometime after the funeral, said attorney Sawyer Smith, who is representing suspect Jason Mitchell, 19.
"Out of respect for the Taylor family, they're waiting for that to occur so that the arrival of these boys does not distract from the grief the Taylor family is suffering," Smith said.
Also charged are Eric Rivera, 17; Charles Wardlow, 18; and Venjah Hunte, 20. All face charges of unpremeditated murder, home invasion with a firearm or another deadly weapon and armed burglary.
Smith said there is a fifth suspect but declined to elaborate. Miami-Dade police spokesman Juan Villaba refused to confirm that.
Probable cause affidavits for Mitchell and Rivera obtained by The Associated Press said the two confessed to participating in armed burglary. According to the reports, Mitchell and Rivera admitted entering the home and said someone had a gun and shot Taylor, but they didn't identify who. Police and attorneys also have said some of the young men confessed, though they wouldn't elaborate.
Taylor died Nov. 27, one day after being shot at his home in an affluent Miami suburb. Police said the suspects were looking for a simple burglary, but it turned bloody when they were startled to find Taylor home.
The suspects all have prior arrests, according to police, including drug, theft and gun charges, though friends and family have defended them.
Police remain tightlipped about how the suspects wound up at Taylor's home. But his former attorney Richard Sharpstein said Taylor's sister was dating a relative of Wardlow and that one or more people tied to the suspects may have attended her 21st birthday party at the athlete's home.
Miami-Dade police wouldn't confirm any of the possible links.
The day of the robbery, Taylor and Garcia were awakened by loud noises and within moments he was shot. Neither the couple's 18-month-old daughter, also named Jackie, nor Garcia were injured, but the bullet hit the femoral artery in Taylor's leg, causing significant blood loss. He never regained consciousness.
Authorities 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.
Sharpstein said Taylor's family was grateful for fast police work in the case, but that the arrests gave little comfort.