Criminal Courts

Jury in trial of accused Sean Taylor shooter goes home for weekend

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

The jury in the trial of a man charged with killing football star Sean Taylor went home for the weekend without reaching a verdict.

Some of the 12 jurors appeared tired Friday afternoon when they were dismissed by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Dennis Murphy, who asked them to return Monday morning. They have been deliberating for more than 12 hours over three days and appear to be struggling with the case.

“Forget about it. Relax. Get your minds clear,’ Murphy told jurors about how to spend their weekend.

“It’s been a long day and for us, a difficult one,” the jury foreman told the judge.

In jurors’ hands is the case of 23-year-old Eric Rivera, who was charged with first-degree murder in a botched armed burglary six years ago that ended with the shooting of the Washington Redskins safety. Rivera faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Of the four other men accused in the case, three have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. The fourth is serving prison time after pleading guilty in 2010 to second-degree murder.

Taylor, a 24-year-old former Gulliver Preparatory School and University of Miami football standout, was killed in November 2007 after surprising the intruders inside his home off Old Cutler Road in Palmetto Bay. The would-be burglars had expected him to be with the Redskins in Tampa, but Taylor was home with his girlfriend and 18-month-old daughter, nursing an injured knee.

The only indications on how the talks inside the jury room went Friday came from three questions jurors posed. One asked for clarification between a second-degree murder charge and a manslaughter charge.

The other two questions focused on how to determine if Rivera was a main actor in the crime, a distinction jurors also grappled with on Thursday. Under Florida law, if Rivera is considered a “principal,” he could be convicted of first-degree felony murder even if jurors cannot determine if he pulled the gun’s trigger.

Deliberations were delayed Friday morning because the court found an unauthorized legal book in the jury room before the jurors came in.

On Wednesday, the jury had asked for a “law book” to assist in their discussions. The court had said no.

But Thursday afternoon, jurors were left alone in the locked and empty courtroom to review Rivera’s videotaped confession, which his defense maintains was coerced by police. The jurors could have grabbed the book — a 2010 edition of a Florida criminal laws and rules book — if it was lying around.

Rivera’s defense attorneys could have claimed potential jury misconduct and asked for a mistrial. They didn’t, saying they preferred to question jurors individually on whether they used the book if they returned with a guilty verdict. Prosecutors opposed that request, saying any juror questions should take place immediately.

The judge sided with prosecutors. He asked Rivera if he was sure he wanted to follow his lawyers’ advice. Rivera said yes.

While the judge didn’t mention the incident to jurors once they walked in, he pointedly asked the bailiff if the jury room was clear. Some jurors seemed to chuckle.

Rivera’s family and friends from Fort Myers, and the families of Taylor and his girlfriend, have attended every day of the two-week trial. Taylor’s father is Florida City Police Chief Pedro Taylor.

Friday morning, Rivera’s supporters stood in a circle by the courtroom doors, held hands and bowed their heads in prayer.

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