By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
MIAMI, Dec. 4 -- A Miami-Dade County grand jury on Tuesday indicted four men connected to the shooting death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor on charges of first-degree felony murder and armed burglary, the Miami-Dade state attorney's office announced.
The indictment identified the youngest, Eric Rivera, 17, as the gunman and alleged that Jason Scott Mitchell, 19, wore a hood to conceal his identity, but provided few other details of the night Taylor, 24, was shot in his Miami area home in what police described as a bungled burglary attempt Nov. 26.
Earlier in the day, three of the four men made their initial appearance in Miami-Dade state court and were denied bond. The three -- Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 18; Venjah K. Hunte, 20; and Mitchell -- were placed on suicide watch after being booked into jail in Miami-Dade County on Monday night. They will be arraigned Dec. 24.
Rivera had been expected to arrive from Fort Myers by Tuesday night, but state corrections records indicated he hadn't been booked into Miami-Dade jail as of mid-evening.
Wardlow, Hunte and Mitchell appeared via closed-circuit television before Miami Circuit Judge John W. Thornton Jr. surrounded by guards and wearing handcuffs and sleeveless, quilted smocks that are given to inmates who are considered in danger of harming themselves.
Thornton refused to set bond for any of the men, ruling there was probable cause that they had committed felony murder and armed burglary.
Police say Taylor was shot in the groin after apparently surprising the intruders. He died a day later and was buried Monday after a funeral service in Miami that drew thousands of mourners.
Several of the defense attorneys said their clients were sorry about what happened.
"Mr. Mitchell is in the position where he wants to resolve this issue without any more stress to the family of Sean Taylor," said Mitchell's attorney, Landon Miller. "It was a tragedy all the way around. He is not happy with the results. They were not intended."
Hunte's attorney, Michael F. Hornung, described his client as "very distraught." He said Hunte was lured into the car that went to Taylor's house without any idea of where it was going.
"He's very upset. He's scared," Hornung said. "As far as his involvement, it's de minimis," Latin for of minimal importance.
Wilbur Smith, the attorney for Rivera, said his client was "in disbelief over what occurred. His expression to me is: 'I can't believe this kind of thing happened, and that I'm in this, and that man is dead.' "
Smith also said he had expected Rivera would be accused of wielding the gun.
"There is nothing in the indictment that surprises us, or that we weren't aware of," he said. "So far, everything has gone exactly like expected -- except that we thought it would be easier to get our client from Fort Myers to Miami."
Police are investigating a fifth suspect in the slaying, sources close to the case said Monday. The fifth suspect is a 16-year-old who drove the group's car from Taylor's home early Nov. 26 after Taylor had been fatally shot, a source said. The fifth suspect is related to one of the four men already in custody, said the source, who declined to be identified by name. That suspect probably is cooperating with Miami-Dade police, Miller said Tuesday.