By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007
MIAMI, Dec. 6 -- The four men charged in the death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor nearly abandoned the attempted burglary of Taylor's home when one of them heard noises, but the alleged gunman persuaded the others to continue, saying he was the source of the noises, Taylor's attorney said Thursday.
Two of the accused -- Eric Rivera Jr., 17, and Jason Scott Mitchell, 19 -- allegedly entered Taylor's house early Nov. 26, while the other two -- Venjah K. Hunte, 20, and Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 18 -- apparently remained in the car, according to Richard Sharpstein, the attorney.
Mitchell claimed in his statement to police that he ran out of the house after hearing noises, but was pulled back into the house by Rivera, who told him "that was me you heard," Sharpstein said. When informed of Sharpstein's account, Mitchell's attorney, Landon Miller, said, "That sounds consistent with what I know."
Sharpstein said he got the information from law enforcement sources who provided him details of statements the four made to police before they were arrested last Friday.
Rivera and Mitchell apparently were selected to enter the house because they had been involved in another burglary at Taylor's residence eight days earlier and were familiar with it, Sharpstein said. Police said the intruders targeted the house because they did not expect anyone to be home, and some of them had visited it previously.
But another attorney close to the case, who requested anonymity, said "there's additional information out there that maybe all four men were in the house at one time or another" the night of the robbery.
A Miami-Dade grand jury alleged that Rivera shot Taylor, who died a day later, after being startled to find him in the house. The grand jury also alleged that Mitchell had worn a hood over his head to disguise his identity during the burglary attempt.
Sharpstein said he was not given copies of the defendants' statements. Attorneys for the four men have said they also have not received the statements. Miami-Dade police spokesman Robert Williams said the department could not comment because doing so could compromise the investigation.
All four men reside in Fort Myers, Fla., but there are several apparent connections to Taylor. Miller confirmed that his client, Mitchell, had done lawn maintenance for Taylor, as first reported last week by the Miami Herald.
Wardlow, meanwhile, is a relative of Christopher Devon Wardlow, who is known by the name Devon and has dated Taylor's half-sister Sasha Johnson since high school. Neighbors have said Devon Wardlow is the uncle of Charles Wardlow. The Herald has referred to the men as cousins.
Devon Wardlow has been questioned by police, Sharpstein said Thursday. Johnson, who family and friends say was close to Taylor, lived in his Miami area home when he was not there.
Devon Wardlow attended a birthday party for Johnson at Taylor's house around the time of her 21st birthday Oct. 1 and brought with him another man from Fort Myers, her father has said. The Miami Herald identified that man as Mitchell.
Mitchell, Charles Wardlow and Hunte appeared in Miami-Dade court Tuesday and were denied bond. Rivera arrived from Fort Myers a day later and also was denied bond. All are scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 21.
Taylor, 24, did not accompany the Redskins to their game against Tampa Bay on Nov. 25 because he had a knee injury. He instead flew to Miami from Washington on Nov. 24. The day before the early-morning break-in on Nov. 26, he bicycled about 30 miles from his home to his girlfriend's parents' house on Key Biscayne, according to accounts of family and friends.
He returned to his home with his girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, and their 18-month-old daughter, Jackie. They went to bed early and were awakened by the intruders after midnight. Garcia, who huddled with their daughter in Taylor's bed as he confronted the intruders with a machete, and the girl were not injured. Two shots were fired, one striking Taylor's upper thigh and the other a wall. The intruders fled after the shots were fired, and Garcia called 911 at 1:46 a.m. The defendants were arrested five days later in Fort Myers.
The attorneys for Hunte and Wardlow said their clients had no involvement in the prior burglary, and Hunte's attorney, Michael Hornung, said Hunte had never been in the house previously. Hornung has claimed that his client was the "least culpable" of the foursome.
Wardlow's attorney, David Bremer, declined further comment.
Rivera's attorney, Wilbur Smith, said he had no information on who participated in the prior burglary.
The New York Times first reported Thursday that at least two of the defendants had been involved in the earlier burglary. Memorabilia from Taylor's football career and money were found in the house of one of the defendants, the paper said.