Taylor Had Met One Suspect in Killing

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

MIAMI, March 12 -- One of the four men accused of killing Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor during a bungled break-in at his home in November spent four nights at the house two months earlier, sleeping on the living room couch, using Taylor's computer and helping Taylor cut his grass, the man admitted in court documents released Wednesday.

Jason Scott Mitchell, 20, told police during a nearly two-hour interview last fall that he received $300 in $50 bills from Taylor, whom he never had met before that visit, for helping him mow his lawn in preparation for a birthday party for Taylor's half-sister. Mitchell also said he saw Hallmark gift bags containing $10,000 in cash that Taylor had presented to his half-brother and half-sister, who was turning 21, before returning to Washington.

Mitchell's description of the visit to Taylor's home illuminates the wealth that was casually displayed there and openly flaunted by Taylor's half-siblings, and it also sheds light on possible motivation for the early-morning break-in weeks later that left Taylor bleeding from a gunshot wound. Police say he was shot after surprising the intruders. He died the next day from blood loss.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office released heavily redacted copies of signed statements from three of the four men from Fort Myers, Fla., -- Mitchell, Eric Rivera Jr., 17; Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 19; and Venjah K. Hunte, 20 -- charged with felony murder and armed burglary in connection with Taylor's death on Nov. 27.

The attorney for Hunte, Michael Hornung, declined to comment on the statements but speculated that the defendants might not go to trial as scheduled April 7 because of delays in receiving discovery connected to the case.

In a separate interview with police, Rivera, whom a Miami-Dade County grand jury accused of firing the gun that killed Taylor, said the accused men burned their clothes and gloves so that "nobody can find out who did it." Rivera admitted driving the rental car carrying the four men from Fort Myers to Miami the night before the shooting.

The men reacted with nonchalance when they found out Taylor had been wounded during the break-in, Mitchell said in his statement, claiming they did not expect to find anyone home and didn't immediately realize it was Taylor who had been injured.

The afternoon after the shooting, Wardlow went to Mitchell's house in Fort Myers and said, "You know, Sean got shot," Mitchell told police. "And I was like, 'for real.' He was like, 'yeah.' And I was like, 'damn.' And that was it."

Mitchell told police Taylor had greeted him at the door when he had arrived at Taylor's house for the late-September visit on a Thursday night. Taylor introduced himself to Mitchell as his half-siblings sat on the couch talking on their cellphones, Mitchell said.

Mitchell was accompanied on the visit by a friend, Christopher Devon Wardlow, who had been dating Taylor's half-sister, Sasha Johnson, and is the nephew of Charles Wardlow.

On Friday, Sean Taylor asked both men to help him "straighten up his pool deck for Sasha's birthday," Mitchell said. Christopher Devon Wardlow, he said, pressure-washed the pool deck and also received $300 in $50 bills from Taylor for the work.

Before Taylor departed for Washington on Saturday or Sunday, he gave Sasha Johnson and her brother, Jamal Johnson, the cash in different-colored gift bags that they later showed off to their guests, Mitchell said. Sasha Johnson took photos of Christopher Devon Wardlow holding the money in the bathroom next to her bedroom, Mitchell said.

Sasha Johnson could not immediately be reached to comment.

Jamal Johnson carried wads of money across his chest and stomach and described it as his "play money," Mitchell said. He also showed off the $10,000 that "big bro left me," which was wrapped with a label designating its value, according to Mitchell.

Many people, Mitchell said, came over to the house Saturday night for the party, which he described as a "sit around get together." Christopher Devon Wardlow, who Mitchell said had been romantically involved with Johnson dating back to their days at Dunbar High in Fort Myers, slept in her bedroom throughout the weekend.

Christopher Devon Wardlow later told his uncle, Charles Wardlow, about the display of money, Mitchell speculated.

Said Mitchell, "Charles had told me what Devon told him . . . that he seen -- he seen over ten stacks, I think, ten thousand . . . in Sasha's hands. "

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