Speculation and Secrecy Cloud Taylor Investigation

By Amy Shipley and Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 30, 2007

MIAMI, Nov. 29 -- Three days after Sean Taylor was fatally shot in his Miami home, family and friends of the Washington Redskins safety struggled Thursday with competing theories about the motives behind the attack but had few tangible clues.

While Taylor's father made arrangements for his wake, and his mother visited the 5,000-seat arena at which his funeral will take place Monday, an array of contradictory statements, a retraction and crime-scene details not fully explained have seeped out from a variety of sources, adding to the mystery over whether Taylor was a random victim or targeted.

Among the questions: Why was Taylor's house burglarized just eight days before the shooting, with the thieves taking virtually nothing and leaving a kitchen knife on a bed? Why was Taylor in Miami again -- without notifying Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs -- after having returned briefly after the first break-in? Why did Monday's intruder or intruders kick in the bedroom door? Why was at least one carrying a gun, which legal experts say is uncommon among burglars because breaking and entering with a firearm carries much harsher minimum sentences? Why did Taylor have a machete in his bedroom?

People close to Taylor on Thursday attempted to counter speculation that he was the intended target of the gunman who burst into his bedroom early Monday morning. They said they believed one or more intruders kicked down Taylor's bedroom door in search of a safe, not Taylor himself, during a break-in in which the Pro Bowl defensive back was shot in the groin.

"They were shocked when they saw somebody there," said Ed Hill, who said he was a cousin and former roommate of Taylor's father. "He really spooked them."

Miami-Dade police said Wednesday they had "no reason" to believe the break-in was anything other than a botched burglary and that the evidence suggested Taylor was a random victim. Even so, Taylor's childhood friend Antrel Rolle, now a cornerback with the Arizona Cardinals, and others have postulated that Taylor was targeted by someone who harbored a grudge.

"This was not the first incident," Rolle said. "They've been targeting him for three years now."

Two of Taylor's closest friends on the Redskins, Santana Moss and Clinton Portis, on Thursday gave credence to Rolle's comments because Taylor had known him since age 6.

"Antrel Rolle and Sean grew up pretty close together," Moss said. "If he knows something that we don't know, then all you can do is respect what he said. I don't know how true it is, but he might know something that we don't know."

Law enforcement observers said the Taylor case was one of the most buttoned-down investigations they had ever encountered in the city and the lack of information has failed to bring clarity to the probe. Thus far, the police work has produced no suspects and no witness description.

There has also been much confusion over several details. Initial reports said the phone line to the house had been cut, forcing Taylor's girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, to call 911 on her cellphone. Miami-Dade police later said they found no evidence the line had been cut.

A cousin said Taylor had no security system at the home. Taylor's attorney, Richard Sharpstein, and others said he had a security system but it was disarmed on the night of the shooting. Taylor's father, the chief of police in nearby Florida City, said he simply didn't know. The police refused to comment, but the question of why a multimillionaire, high-profile athlete did not take greater security measures remained unanswered.

Taylor's friends and family said they believe the house, not Taylor, was the target of the attack for several reasons: Few people knew he had flown into town Saturday night, but many could have known about the safe in his bedroom after the earlier break-in.

They also said Taylor would never have allowed his girlfriend and their 18-month-old daughter to sleep in the house with him if he thought enemies were trying to hunt him down.

Moreover, Sharpstein said that the intruder or intruders made too much noise inside the house to have been trying to stalk Taylor. He said he based his comments on a conversation with Garcia, who along with Taylor and their daughter was the only one home at the time. "They made tons of noise out in the living room," Sharpstein said. "It's certainly not a hit."

"He definitely wasn't targeted," Hill said. "He was supposed to be with the Redskins. . . . Nobody knew he was home. His dad didn't even know he was home."

But even the explanations come with questions. Why would thieves return to a safe they had already gone through, as the Nov. 18 police report on the first break-in indicates? If Taylor was not concerned about his safety, why did he lower the hurricane shutters on his windows after the first break-in, as his attorney and a cousin have said?

Taylor had been excused from attending the Redskins' game in Tampa on Sunday because of a knee injury, and he elected to make a brief trip to Miami instead of remaining in the Washington region. Hill said Taylor picked up his girlfriend and their baby from her parents' house, where the two stay when Taylor is not in town, and spent Sunday with them.

Family members said the intruders likely thought they had entered an empty house early Monday and went straight for the master bedroom, perhaps thinking the safe would have been stocked since the last invasion, or that they had missed something in the earlier burglary.

"It had to be someone who's been in the house before who knew the safe was in there," said Emory Williams Jr., a cousin. "They came back in to get it. [Upon seeing Taylor], they're being a scared person who is going to pull a trigger."

Family and friends also responded to speculation about the knife that had been left on a bed in the house at the time of the first break-in. The police report of the incident indicated that it was a kitchen knife that had been left on the bed of Donna Junor, Taylor's mother, who occasionally stays at the house.

A Miami lawyer, who asked not to be identified by name, called that fact "very curious," and added, "Was a message being sent?"

But family members and Sharpstein suggested the knife was not a message but was merely dropped on the bed after being used as a burglary tool to pry things open.

"That was what they used to break into the house," Williams said. "That was something they had and that's where they dropped it when they ran."

Taylor's father said Taylor had machetes and other equipment for gardening, and Hill said Taylor had long kept the machete in his closet for protection, like some people keep a baseball bat.

Meantime, a former prosecutor in a criminal case involving Taylor and a dispute between several Miami men in 2005 said he doubted that incident had any connection to the shooting. Taylor accused the men of stealing his all-terrain vehicles, which led to criminal charges against Taylor. He later pleaded no contest and served probation. One of the men later sued Taylor.

"I feel pretty strongly that it doesn't have anything to do with the ATV case," said Mike Grieco, the former prosecutor. "Lawsuits are about money. It doesn't make any sense to go after the person you are suing. That's the honey pot."

Most of the theorizing, family and friends said, has been uninformed. Even they admit they haven't received much information from Miami-Dade police.

"Some think he was targeted, some think he wasn't," said Donald Walker, a close friend of Junor who accompanied her to the site of the funeral Thursday. "People like to talk about what they don't know."

Staff writers Les Carpenter and Dan Steinberg in Washington contributed to this report.

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