Criminal court

Second man guilty in Miami-Dade slaying of pro football star Sean Taylor

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

The Fort Myers man who masterminded the burglary that led to the fatal shooting of former University of Miami star safety Sean Taylor will be serving life in prison.

Jurors late Tuesday convicted Jason S. Mitchell, 26, of first-degree felony murder and armed burglary.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy immediately sentenced him to life prison, the mandatory prison term for first-degree murder.

Mitchell is the second man to be convicted in the high-profile shooting of Taylor, a Redskins Pro Bowl defensive back who was gunned down inside his Palmetto Bay home in November 2007.

Earlier this year, the suspected shooter, Eric Rivera, was sentenced to nearly 60 years behind bars.

Also awaiting trial: Charles Wardlow, 24, and Timmy Brown, 22. A fifth defendant, Venjah Hunte, 26, already has pleaded guilty.

“I’m pleased with the verdict,” said Pedro Taylor, the Florida City police chief and father of the slain football star. “Still got two more to go.”

After more than three hours of deliberations, jurors agreed that Mitchell must be held responsible for the slaying, even though he did not pull the trigger.

Under Florida law, someone who commits certain felonies in which someone dies — in this case, armed burglary — can be found guilty of felony murder. For the burglary, he was sentenced to an additional 40 years in prison.

“He must be treated like he’s the person who shot Sean Taylor, if he was one of the people there committing the burglary,” prosecutor Reid Rubin told jurors Tuesday.

Prosecutors say Mitchell planned the ill-fated burglary of the home of Taylor, who was home asleep with his girlfriend and their infant daughter.

Taylor confronted the five intruders after one of them kicked in his master bedroom door. Rivera shot him in the leg and he bled to death.

The slaying of the hometown sports legend from Gulliver High shocked South Florida and launched a massive police investigation.

The probe quickly turned to Fort Myers, where investigators soon focused on Mitchell and his pals. He had earlier attended a birthday party at Taylor’s Palmetto Bay home for the athlete’s sister, Sasha Johnson.

During the four days Mitchell stayed at Taylor’s home, the football player even paid the young man to wash his pool deck and mow his lawn.

Johnson last week told jurors that Mitchell, an associate of the woman’s boyfriend, witnessed her open a gift from Taylor, $10,000 cash tucked in a purse.

The lure of possible cash hidden in the house spurred Mitchell to later drive to Miami to break into the home, coming up empty-handed. He returned weeks later, but this time with Rivera and three other young men.

On Tuesday, his defense attorney conceded that Mitchell was guilty of burglary – but not of wielding the weapon and shooting Taylor.

“Eric Rivera kicked down the door and shot Sean Taylor on his own. On a whim,” lawyer Robert Barrar told the jury.

Rivera, 24, was convicted last fall after jurors, who deliberated 16 hours over four days, could not agree unanimously that Rivera pulled the trigger. Instead, Rivera was convicted of second-degree murder without a firearm and armed burglary.

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