Grand jury identifies Rivera as gunman in death of  Taylor

Updated: December 4, 2007, 11:45 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- The 17-year-old suspect in the death of Sean Taylor was accused Tuesday of firing the shot that killed the Washington Redskins safety.

A Miami-Dade grand jury identified Eric Rivera as the gunman in its indictment.

Rivera and his three co-defendants were indicted by the grand jury on charges of first-degree felony murder and armed burglary.

[+] EnlargeMitchell, Wardlow, and Hunte
AP Photo/Lynn SladkyJason Mitchell, Charles Wardlow and Venjah Hunte (from left) were denied bail after appearing separately before a judge via a video link.

Charles Wardlow, 18; Jason Mitchell, 19; and Venjah Hunte, 20; were ordered held without bail during brief court appearances via a videoconference from Miami-Dade County jail. The three, who stood silently during the hearing, will remain at the jail under suicide watch after Judge John Thornton Jr.'s ruling.

Rivera was being transported from Fort Myers to Miami-Dade on Tuesday night and will make a court appearance Wednesday morning. One of his attorneys said the grand jury's identification of Rivera as the gunman was expected.

"This does not come as a surprise," said Sawyer Smith, who along with his father Wilbur represents Rivera.

The 24-year-old Taylor died Nov. 27, a day after he was shot in the bedroom of his home. Police have said he was a victim of a botched burglary.

"I think he's in disbelief over what occurred," said Wilbur Smith. "His expression to me was that 'I can't believe this kind of thing happened.'"

Asked how he would defend his client, Wilbur Smith said simply: "Stay tuned."

Attorneys said the four young men were agitated.

"He's very distraught," said Hunte's attorney, Michael Hornung. "He's scared."

Hornung offered glimpses of his client's possible involvement. He said Hunte was the only suspect with a valid driver's license and behind the wheel at least part of the time. He said Hunte did not have a gun and did not know his friends' plans.

"Just a bunch of friends that evening said they were going to the East Coast, and he went along," Hornung said. "He had no idea whatsoever what was going on."

Hunte is cooperating with police, his attorney said, and would tell them everything he knows.

Probable cause affidavits for Mitchell and Rivera said the two confessed to participating in armed burglary. According to the reports, Mitchell and Rivera admitted entering the home and said someone had a gun and shot Taylor, but they didn't identify who. Police and attorneys also have said some of the young men confessed, though they wouldn't elaborate.

Wardlow's attorney, David Brener, did not return a phone message.

Wilbur and Sawyer Smith have said there is a fifth suspect, though police would not confirm that.

The court proceedings came a day after Taylor's funeral, which was held at a university arena and drew about 3,000 mourners. Among those attending were NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, 300 members of the Redskins organization and actor Andy Garcia, uncle of Taylor's girlfriend, Jackie Garcia.

Richard Sharpstein, Taylor's former attorney, said the athlete's family was grateful for police and prosecutors' work, but that it did little to lessen their loss.

"They're still grieving, and no amount of justice could ever replace Sean to them," Sharpstein said. "However, they'll support this prosecution and wish the state attorney the best in achieving the most severe punishment to these people."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press