Jury finds accussed Sean Taylor shooter guilty of second-degree murder

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

The jury in the murder trial of football star Sean Taylor has found accused shooter Eric Rivera guilty of second-degree murder.

He was also found guilty of armed burglary, though jurors did not find Rivera of being in possession of a gun in the murder charge.

After 16 hours of deliberations over four days, the 12-member jury delivered its verdict Monday afternoon.

Rivera, 23, had been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Taylor, who played for the Washington Redskins and died six years ago after a group of men from Fort Myers broke into his Palmetto Bay home.

Despite lesser charge, Rivera could still face up to life in prison.

Rivera stood quietly, holding his hands in front of him, as the verdict was announced. Jackie Garcia Haley, Taylor’s girlfriend, bent over in the court gallery and held her face in her hands.

When the 12 jurors went home Friday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy urged them to spend the weekend clearing their heads and not thinking about the closely watched case. The jury foreman admitted the third day of deliberations had been difficult.

Judge Murphy asked the jury to return to the courthouse by 9:45 a.m. They filed into the jury room about an hour late.

Moments earlier, corrections officers escorted Rivera into the courtroom. In the hallway, his mother hollered, “Eric!” Rivera turned around, smiled and mouthed, “Hi.”

The wait for a verdict following the emotional two-week trial took longer than either prosecutors from the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office or Rivera’s defense attorneys from Southwest Florida expected. Jurors were handed the case late Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Rivera, then 17, and four other men made the trip across Alligator Alley on Interstate 75 in November 2007 intent on raiding the thousands of dollars in cash they thought Taylor kept inside his Old Cutler Road house. One of the men had attended a birthday party there for Taylor’s sister and had seen Taylor gift her $10,000 tucked in a new purse.

To the men’s surprise, Taylor, 24, was not in Tampa with the Redskins that night — but at home, asleep with his girlfriend and their 18-month-old daughter.

In prosecutors’ version of the events, Rivera kicked open the master bedroom door and, upon seeing Taylor, who was holding a small machete, shot him in the groin. The bullet hit Taylor’s femoral artery, which supplies much of the blood to the lower half of the body. He died the next day.

Prosecutors played jurors a videotaped confession Rivera gave police a few days after the murder. He made the same admission two years ago in a court hearing while he was under oath.

They also pointed to a letter Rivera penned in jail to a cousin, asking him to pressure a key prosecution witness to change her testimony; to cell phone records between Rivera and the other men accused in the case, and to footprint marks found in Taylor’s house that prosecutors say match Rivera’s shoes.

The defense countered that Rivera only tagged along for the ride and never even left the burglars’ car.

The confession, Rivera said when he testified in the trial, was coerced by police who claimed Rivera’s family was being threatened because of his role in Taylor’s death. He said he had previously lied in court so that he wouldn’t have to testify against one of his buddies also charged in the crime.

As for the jailhouse letter, it was an attempt to bolster his defense at the time, Rivera said. He chalked up the cell phone calls to one of his friends in the group who often borrowed his phone, and he said he was not wearing the Nike Shox sneakers identified in the footprints.

Three of the other four accused men have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. The fourth pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is serving 29 years in priso

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