More than seven years after intruders broke into the South Florida home of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor and shot him to death, his family has closure.
Timmy Lee Brown, the final defendant in the closely watched murder case, pleaded guilty Wednesday and agreed to serve 18 years in prison.
The conclusion of Brown’s case means all five young men charged in the slaying of the University of Miami football legend have been convicted and will serve prison time.
“I’m just glad it’s over. Everyone can move with their lives,” Taylor’s father, Florida City police chief Pete Taylor, told the Miami Herald. “It’s time for healing.”
Taylor attended the hearing along with his son’s then-girlfriend, Jackie Garcia Haley, the mother of the football player’s daughter.
Brown, 23, must also serve five years of probation after he is released from prison. His defense attorney declined to comment.
The football player’s murder in November 2007 shocked South Florida and the NFL, where Taylor was a rising star. The killing launched a massive police investigation that unraveled a botched burglary plot.
Prosecutors say Brown and four other young men from Fort Myers drove across the state in search of a stash of cash purportedly hidden inside Taylor’s Palmetto Bay house. They broke in, thinking the home was empty.
But unbeknownst to the group, Taylor was inside the master bedroom, sleeping alongside his girlfriend and their baby daughter.
After kicking in the bedroom door, 17-year-old Eric Rivera shot Taylor as the safety rushed him with a machete he kept in his bedroom for protection. One bullet severed the femoral artery in his leg and Taylor bled to death.
Miami-Dade police detectives eventually caught up with the men on Florida’s West Coast. Cell phone records placed the group at the murder scene. Rivera confessed in detail, and footprints at the house were similar to the Nike sneakers he wore that morning.
At his highly anticipated 2013 trial, jurors convicted Rivera of second-degree murder. Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy sentenced him to over 57 years in prison.
The plot’s mastermind was Jason Mitchell, who had earlier attended a birthday party for Taylor’s sister at the home. He too went to trial, lost and is serving a life prison term.
Another defendant, Venjah Hunte, pleaded guilty several years ago and will serve a 29-year sentence. Charles Wardlow, who pried open a door for the burglars, pleaded guilty last week and will do a 30-year prison sentence.
In Florida, anyone who commits a felony that leads to a death – in this case, an armed burglary – can be held responsible for murder, even if they did not pull the trigger.