The Death of Sean Taylor: One Year Later
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
MIAMI -- White tulips replaced the yellow roses from just days previous in the large vase next to the granite tombstone engraved with three footballs and a maroon-shirted football player. "Sean Taylor, April 1, 1983, Nov. 27, 2007," the tablet reads, "WE LOVE YOU."
Twice a week, every week, Taylor's father Pedro visits the grave site. It sits on grassy island of memorials at the far end of a West Miami cemetery, the rumble of traffic from a busy boulevard nearby thwarting hopes for solitude.
"Right there, I just thank him for being who he was," Pedro Taylor explained.
Sean Taylor's half-sister, Monika Martin, hasn't mustered such strength. The last time she laid eyes on her brother's grave was when he was buried.
"I can't go. It's just too difficult for me," she said. "We were very close. It's just too much."
One year after intruders fatally shot Taylor during an attempted burglary of his Miami area home, the case is grinding slowly through the Florida court system, and the gradual release of court documents has only stoked the pain for those closest to the former all-pro safety for the Washington Redskins. Relevant police reports, witness interviews and defendants' statements have painted an increasingly tragic picture, revealing the depths to which Taylor's generosity to family members and his openness with their friends provided opportunity to his alleged killers.
His death brought a spare parceling of his $5.8 million estate -- because Taylor didn't have a will, a judge in August ordered that all of it descend to his only child, Jackie Taylor, 2 -- and a more harsh division of the myriad lives once entwined with it.
"It was probably one of the worst things I've ever been through," Martin said. "Nobody knows why this happened."
Four of the five men from Fort Myers, Fla., charged with first-degree murder and armed burglary in connection with the Nov. 26, 2007, shooting await trial, which has been twice postponed and is now set for March.
One, Venjah K. Hunte, 21, pleaded guilty and is serving a 29-year jail sentence. The other defendants -- Eric Rivera Jr., 18, the alleged gunman; Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 19; Jason Scott Mitchell, 20; and Timmy Lee Brown, 17, who was arrested in May, six months after the others -- waived their rights to a speedy trial, meaning the case could drag on for years.
Meanwhile, the sprawling, buttercup yellow ranch house that until Taylor's death was considered a meeting spot for friends and family sits deserted and desolate. White hurricane shutters cover the sliding glass doors and windows. A heavy chain secures the iron entry gates. A large trash can sits in the otherwise empty driveway, and the house's primary occupants, Taylor's mother Donna Junor, half-sister Sasha Johnson and half-brother Jamal Johnson, have scattered throughout South Florida, the siblings taking up residence with other family members.
At least eight people besides Taylor and his girlfriend lived at various times in the four-bedroom residence that Taylor bought in 2005 for $900,000, according to property records, interviews and court documents. A host of others stayed there infrequently, and about 20 people, including Mitchell, attended a 21st birthday party there for Sasha Johnson less than two months before Taylor's death.