The first man to plead guilty in the 2007 slaying of NFL star Sean Taylor in Palmetto Bay was the last to be officially sentenced on Friday, getting 29 years in prison.
Venjah Hunte, who drove a band of young men to the ill-fated burglary that ended in the football player’s slaying, begged Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy to reduce a sentence he had agreed to long ago.
“I truly believe I should be punished,” Hunte said, his voice cracking. “I’m just asking for a second chance.”
But Murphy said he saw no reason to change the terms of a plea agreement in which Hunte, 27, agreed to cooperate with the state. Friday’s hearing capped years of agonizing for Hunte, who pleaded guilty early on but proved to be a problematic witness for prosecutors and was never called to testify.
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Hunte was one of five young men from Fort Myers who drove to Miami in November 2007 to burglarize the home of Taylor. The homegrown football legend starred at the University of Miami, then as a safety for the Washington Redskins.
The burglars did not realize Taylor was home. Prosecutors say 17-year-old Eric Rivera shot and killed Taylor. The others were all charged with felony murder for participating in the burglary that led to Taylor’s demise.
Rivera was convicted of murder in 2013 trial and was sentenced to just over 57 years in prison. Mastermind Jason Mitchell is doing life in prison after his conviction at trial.
Timmy Lee Brown, who was 16 at the time of the crime, pleaded guilty and is doing 18 years behind bars. Charles Wardlow accepted a 30-year prison term.
Hunte pleaded guilty just eight months after the crime and was to be sentenced only after everyone else had closed their cases. But Hunte later sought to withdraw his plea, claiming that his defense attorney did not fully explain it to him. He ultimately backed down.
Then in 2010, from jail, Hunte sent a letter to the mother of Wardlow, saying that her son was innocent. Though Hunte later admitted the letter was a lie — it served “to muck up” the remaining cases, prosecutor Reid Rubin told the court.
Prosecutors declined to violate his plea agreement, but they could have asked he be sent to prison for life.