Suspects in Taylor Shooting Arraigned

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 21, 2007; 3:09 PM

MIAMI, Dec. 21 -- The four men charged with killing Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor appeared in shackles and red jumpsuits during their arraignment in Miami-Dade state court Friday and received an April 7 trial date.

The four defendants -- Eric Rivera, 17; Charles Wardlow, 18; Jason Scott Mitchell, 19; and Venjah Hunte, 20 -- had entered written not guilty pleas before the appearance, so none spoke during a hearing in which pretrial publicity was the main topic.

Judge Dennis J. Murphy chastised attorney Michael Hornung, who represents Hunte, for statements about the case made to reporters Thursday and threatened to place a gag order on attorneys if the disclosures did not cease.

Taylor died Nov. 27, a day after the defendants allegedly broke into his Miami home in what police have described as an attempted burglary. Police said Taylor was shot in the upper thigh after surprising the intruders, who did not expect him to be home.

A Miami-Dade grand jury identified Rivera as the alleged gunman. All four defendants have been charged with first-degree felony murder and armed burglary. The three oldest could face the death penalty.

Taylor's father, Pedro Taylor, attended the hearing along with two unidentified men wearing Sean Taylor T-shirts. Taylor's mother, Donna Junor, also attended. Both left without speaking to reporters.

Murphy granted prosecutors a 20-day period to turn over discovery and scheduled a Jan. 8 hearing to discuss prosecutor Reid Rubin's motion for a protective order to temporarily seal court documents related to the defendants' statements to police. Murphy also set a March 28 hearing to discuss the status of the case.

Murphy denied a motion by Wardlow's attorney, David Bremer, that his client be allowed to wear civilian clothes to all of the hearings that will precede the trial. Murphy noted that the county jail ships 400 to 600 inmates a day to court for hearings.

"We are not going to treat your clients any differently than any of the others that appear," Murphy said.

Murphy's most biting remarks came over comments Hornung made Thursday that appeared in several newspapers.

After meeting with Hunte on Thursday, Hornung told reporters that after the shooting, the defendants stuffed the gun in a white sock and discarded it along a highway; that a 14-year-old boy participated in the attempted burglary Nov. 26; and that three of the four defendants burned the clothes and masks they wore during the break-in in a wooded area of suburban Fort Myers, Fla.

"The judge made it pretty clear he didn't want any statements made about the facts of the case," said Rivera's attorney, Wilbur Smith.

Said Landon Miller, Mitchell's attorney: "It was loud and clear: Be quiet."

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