Four arrested in Taylor case; police anticipate 'murder, burglary' charges

Updated: December 1, 2007, 12:09 AM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Police said two men and two juveniles arrested Friday in the shooting death of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor went to his home intent on stealing, not killing.

The suspects didn't expect Taylor to be home, said Miami-Dade County police Director Robert Parker, but Taylor was recuperating from a knee injury and had returned to Miami from Washington. When Taylor surprised them, he was shot.

"They were certainly not looking to go there and kill anyone," Parker said. "They were expecting a residence that was not occupied. So murder or shooting someone was not their initial motive."

Police spokeswoman Linda O'Brien identified the four suspects as: Venjah K. Hunte, 20; Eric Rivera Jr., 17; Jason Scott Mitchell, 17; and Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 18. O'Brien said the charges for each had not yet been determined, but "we are talking murder and burglary."

Eric Rivera Jr.

Rivera

Venjah Hunte

Hunte

The four were arrested Friday in southwest Florida, about 100 miles from Miami. They will be booked into the Lee County Jail and eventually will be returned to Miami, O'Brien said. She did not have any information on when they would appear in court, their hometowns or if they had attorneys.

Janelle Hall, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County jail, said security reasons prevented her from releasing information regarding when the suspects would be transferred to Miami.

The 24-year-old Pro Bowl safety died Tuesday, one day after being shot at his home in an affluent Miami suburb during what officials said appeared to be an attempted burglary.

Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow

Wardlow

Jason Scott Mitchell

Mitchell

Police have been investigating a possible link to a Nov. 17 break-in at Taylor's home, during which they said someone pried open a front window, rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed.

Authorities said they had more than one confession, but Parker would not elaborate.

"We're looking into whether or not one or more of the individuals had been at the residence before," Parker said.

Family friend Richard Sharpstein said at least one of the suspects was at Taylor's house when his sister recently had a party, but that Taylor did not know the men.

"It's a burglary, and they targeted him for his wealth," said Sharpstein, who's Taylor's former attorney. "It makes his death even more pathetic, unnecessary and just, actually disgusting.''

Sharpstein had not spoken with Taylor's family regarding the arrests, but said he doubted it provided any comfort.

"I know they are just saddened and appalled. The fact that they arrested his killer is no comfort to them," he said. "It probably inflames them more, because it tells them people were trying to steal from him.

"They are murderers. They should be treated like murderers and put in the Miami River and floated away."

The Miami Herald reported on its Web site that Mitchell and Wardlow had connections to Taylor. Mitchell cut Taylor's lawn and did other chores at the house, Mitchell's twin brother, Scottie, told the newspaper. Taylor's sister, Sasha Johnson, dates Wardlow's older cousin Christopher, and Scottie Mitchell told the paper the couple invited Jason Mitchell to Johnson's birthday party within the past two months.

A woman who identified herself as Jason Mitchell's mother told the Naples Daily News her son was at a birthday party at Sean Taylor's home a couple months ago. She also said her son was at home all week and last weekend.

"I don't know where he's at, I don't know why he's being held," she told the Naples paper. "No parent should see this happen to their child."

O'Brien would not confirm the reports when contacted by The Associated Press.

Taylor and longtime girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, were awakened early Monday by loud noises at Taylor's home in an affluent Miami suburb. Taylor grabbed a machete he kept in the bedroom for protection, Sharpstein said. Someone broke through the bedroom door and fired two shots, one missing and one hitting Taylor in the upper leg. Neither the couple's 18-month-old daughter, also named Jackie, nor Garcia were injured.

The bullet damaged the femoral artery in Taylor's leg, causing significant blood loss. Taylor never regained consciousness and died a little more than 24 hours later.

A public viewing for Taylor is scheduled Sunday in Miami, and the entire Redskins organization plans to fly to Florida to attend Monday's funeral at Pharmed Arena at Florida International University.

The Redskins also announced that fans attending the team's Sunday game will receive a towel with Taylor's No.21 jersey on it and that his name will be displayed prominently in one of the end zones. Snyder said the team will contribute a minimum of $500,000 to a fund to benefit Taylor's daughter.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder released a statement late Friday acknowledging the arrests.

"This is another step, but not a conclusion, in a very personal and painful tragedy," he said. "I also want to thank everyone who has joined us in mourning the loss of Sean. People from all over the world contacted the Redskins to share our grief and offer their prayers for Sean and his family. We will never forget the courage his family, especially Jackie, Pete and Donna, have shown. Their composure has been a source of strength for us all."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press