Attorneys Pursue Plea Deals in Taylor Case

Wilbur Smith, left, defense attorney for Eric Rivera Jr., hopes to meet with prosecutors.
Wilbur Smith, left, defense attorney for Eric Rivera Jr., hopes to meet with prosecutors. "We said, 'When you're ready, let's discuss,' " he said. (By Stephen Hayford -- The News-press Via Associated Press)
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 6, 2007

MIAMI, Dec. 5 -- Attorneys for three of the four men charged in the shooting death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor said they have requested or will soon request meetings with prosecutors to discuss possible plea deals in the case.

Eric Rivera Jr., 17, and Jason Scott Mitchell, 19, have sought meetings with the Miami-Dade County state attorney's office, their attorneys said Wednesday. The attorney for Venjah K. Hunte, 20, said he planned to do the same on Hunte's behalf.

"We said, 'When you're ready, let's discuss.' " said Wilbur Smith, the attorney for Rivera. "They said they would let us know when they were ready."

Said Michael Hornung, Hunte's attorney: "That's exactly what we plan to do now that the indictment is out. In my experience . . . it is beneficial to be the first one to contact the state attorney's office with information and cooperation."

The attorney for the fourth defendant said he would not consider seeking a plea deal for Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 18, until after his client's arraignment. "We're not going to be discussing a deal, if at all, until I take the evidence and review it . . . and can evaluate the strength of the state's case," said David Bremer, Wardlow's attorney.

The four men are scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 21, a change from Tuesday when three of the four were given an arraignment date of Dec. 24. After the arraignment, the defendants will be entitled to discovery and evidence in the case.

A Miami-Dade County grand jury charged all four Tuesday with first-degree felony murder and armed burglary in connection with Taylor's death. Taylor, 24, died Nov. 27 after having been shot a day earlier when he surprised intruders in his Miami home.

Rivera, alleged to be the gunman in the indictment, was denied bond in his initial appearance in Miami-Dade court Wednesday. Booked into Miami-Dade jail at shortly after midnight, Rivera was the last of the four defendants to arrive from Fort Myers, Fla., to Miami. The others made their first appearance Tuesday and also were denied bail.

Unlike the other three defendants, Rivera was not placed on suicide watch, according to Smith. Wardlow, Mitchell and Hunte appeared in court Tuesday wearing padded vests designed to keep inmates from harming themselves.

"I think [Rivera] understands the magnitude of the entire case and his position in it," Smith said. "He's acting very appropriately and responsibly. He's very sad and under control. He's not asking me how to get out of this."

Mitchell was alleged in the indictment to having worn a hood or cloak over his head to conceal his identity. He, Wardlow and Hunte made confessions to police, but their attorneys have not seen them, the attorneys said.

All have said their clients were remorseful about the incidents that led to Taylor's death, but Bremer blamed those comments in part for creating "adverse and prejudicial" pretrial publicity.

"All this talk about remorse and guilt to me is a bit disturbing at this stage of the proceedings," he said, adding that he was talking to the media only to rebut the publicity. "It's premature to be talking about plea deals and guilt right now. [My client] is factually, and in the eyes of law enforcement, innocent until proven guilty."

Ed Griffith, a spokesman in the state attorney's office, declined to comment.

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