Footprints found at the home of Sean Taylor were “consistent” with Nike Shox sneakers, a crime scene investigator testified Tuesday, a key point for prosecutors who say accused killer Eric Rivera donned those same shoes the night he fatally shot the football star.
The testimony came on the second day of trial for Rivera, 23, who is charged with murdering Taylor during a botched burglary in November 2007. Taylor, a former University of Miami standout, was a star safety for the Washington Redskins at the time he was slain inside his Palmetto Bay home.
Prosecutors say Rivera and four other young men from Fort Myers drove to Miami-Dade in a rented SUV to break in to the home, looking for cash. According to prosecutors, Rivera kicked in the master bedroom door and shot Taylor, who had armed himself with a machete to protect his girlfriend and infant daughter.
On Tuesday, Miami-Dade police forensic scientist John Mancini testified that a sneaker print found on an electric box, the cover of the motor for the home’s electric gates, as well as on and Taylor’s kicked-in bedroom door matched the distinct soles of the Nike Shox Bomber model.
Soon after Taylor’s murder, Mancini told jurors, he printed out a photo from the Internet of the soles of the Nike shoes. He gave the photo to homicide detectives to help them search for a suspect.
Prosecutor earlier told the jury that Rivera admitted to wearing Nike Shox the night of the murder, and even signed the photo print-out acknowledging he wore the sneakers. Detectives never found the Nikes.
The footprint on the bedroom door had the same zig-zag pattern as the Nike Shox, Mancini said, although he could not say definitively.
“I can’t say for sure it was the Nike Shox that kicked in the door, but I also can’t eliminate it from having done it,” Mancini told defense lawyer Janese Caruthers during cross examination.
Mancini also testified that black Reebok sneakers seized from the home of co-defendant Jason Mitchell also matched a footprint found on the scene.
Mitchell, 25, is awaiting trial, along with Charles Wardlow, 24, and Timothy Brown, 22. A fifth defendant, Venjah Hunte, 25, already has pleaded guilty and may testify against Rivera.
Also testifying on Tuesday:
• Sasha Johnson, Taylor’s sister, testified that Mitchell attended her birthday party at the Palmetto Bay home the month before the murder. He witnessed her open Taylor’s gift to her, $10,000 in cash. It was an event prosecutors say planted the seed for the ill-fated burglary.
Johnson, of Fort Myers, grew emotional as she was shown a photo of her brother. She dated Wardlow’s cousin, and knew both Mitchell and Rivera from Southwest Florida.
• Alexia Anderson, a friend of the burglary suspects, testified that she tagged along when a local woman rented the SUV used in the burglary for Wardlow and Rivera. Anderson told jurors that Rivera was the one drove the vehicle away from the rental car agency.
• Ariel Boston, another friend of the burglary suspects, testified that the group came to her home just hours after the slaying, in the black SUV. They did not speak about the burglary, but instead joked and laughed “like normal,” Boston told jurors.
She also said her uncle that morning found a cache of tools outside the Lehigh Acres home; two of the defendants later came back looking for them but her uncle had already discarded them. Investigators believe the tools were used to break into Taylor’s home.