The fourth man involved in the slaying of former University of Miami football star Sean Taylor will serve 30 years in prison.
Charles Wardlow pleaded guilty Wednesday, eight years after he and four other young men from Fort Myers broke into Taylor’s Palmetto Bay home, fatally shooting the pro safety during a botched burglary that stunned the sports world.
Wednesday’s plea deal means only one defendant, Timmy Brown, who is Wardlow’s cousin, still awaits trial.
“Four down, one to go,” said Taylor’s father, Pedro Taylor, the Florida City Police Chief.
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His son would have celebrated his 32rd birthday on Wednesday.
Considered a homegrown sports hero, Taylor starred at the University of Miami and played for the Washington Redskins at the time of his death. Taylor’s unexpected killing shook the team and the National Football League – over 3,000 attended people attended his memorial.
Prosecutors say Wardlow was one of the five young men who believed that Taylor kept a sizable stash of money inside his home. The group believed Taylor was with the team – but he was actually home rehabbing an injured knee.
Using a crowbar, Wardlow broke into a door and the group eventually made its way to the master bedroom. They kicked in the door only to met by Taylor wielding a machete. His girlfriend and their young daughter were inside the room too.
Prosecutors said Eric Rivera, then 17, shot and mortally wounded Taylor with a single bullet to the leg.
Rivera went to trial, lost and last year was sentenced to nearly 60 years behind bars.
The burglary mastermind, Jason Mitchell, also opted for trial and lost. Last year, Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy sentenced him to life in prison. Several years ago, Venjah Hunte pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the others. Prosecutors, however, never called him to testify. He will serve 29 years in prison.
Wardlow confessed to police. On Tuesday, he gave a formal statement to prosecutors outlining what happened. One day later, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Under Florida law, anyone who participates in certain felonies – in this case, armed burglary – that results in a death can be charged with murder. Had he gone to trial and lost, the 25-year-old faced a mandatory term of life in prison.
“This case highlights the Draconian penalties associated with Florida’s felony murder statute,” said his attorney, Phil Reizenstein. “An 18-year-old young man man was facing life in prison even though everyone knew he never had a gun or fired the gun. My criticism of the law should not diminish the tragedy of Sean Taylor’s death and the pain his family feels.”