Who Were The Men Involved In The 2007 Murder Of NFL Star Sean Taylor?

Sean Taylor's career in the NFL was just starting to really heat up. The Florida native was a number five draft pick in 2004 for the Washington Commanders, after playing three seasons for the University of Miami (per Biography). As a college player, the defensive back was a dominating force on the field. In his final year as a Hurricane, Taylor led the entire nation in interceptions with 10, making the first-team All-American (via Pro Football History).

As an NFL player for the Commanders, Taylor showed no signs of slowing down. His four interceptions and 78 tackles during his rookie season paved the way for Taylor to be voted to the Pro Football Writer's Association's All-Rookie Team. On the field, he earned the nickname "Meast" from his fellow Commanders, a reference to him being half man, half beast. Taylor's athletic prowess and skill on the gridiron could sometimes be overshadowed by his rebellious actions and unsportsmanlike behavior. During a playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his second year, a player accused him of spitting on him. Taylor was ejected from the game and fined $17,000 by the league.

Taylor's fourth year as a pro was off to a strong start. He already had a career-best five interceptions and 41 tackles. But the world would never know what could have been. After week 12 of NFL play that season, Taylor was gunned down in cold blood at his Miami home.

Taylor's house had been burglarized a week before the shooting

On November 18, 2007, Taylor's mother went to his home to check on it while her son was out of town. Pro Football History reports that she saw evidence of a break-in and phoned the police. Police arrived and concluded that someone had broken in through a window and rummaged through Taylor's safe. Dresser drawers also showed signs of being disturbed, and a kitchen knife was left on the bed (via CNN). Though it was obvious that someone had broken in, police could not find any evidence of missing items.

A week later, another break-in occurred. Only this time, Taylor was home. He and his girlfriend Jackie Garcia were in their bedroom with their 18-month-old daughter in the early hours of November 26. Biography tells us that the couple heard a noise coming from the living room. Perhaps still jarred by the recent burglary, Taylor grabbed a large knife and started toward the bedroom door.

Before he could reach the door, a man burst in from the outside, brandishing a gun. The intruder fired his weapon and was able to strike Taylor in the thigh with a single bullet. Garcia and their young child were unharmed in the incident. Garcia phoned for help as Taylor lay on the floor bleeding. The lone bullet had struck his femoral artery and he was losing blood rapidly. He was transported to a nearby hospital but died 24 hours later on November 27 (via Pro Football History).

There were multiple intruders on the night of the murder

As the investigation into Taylor's murder began to unfold, police were able to determine that this was not the work of a lone intruder. Five men and teens were ultimately charged in the case. Jason Mitchell, Charles Wardlow, Venjah Hunte, and Eric Rivera were all charged with multiple felonies, including unpremeditated murder, armed burglary, and home invasion with a firearm (via Biography). Rivera and Mitchell were only 17 years old (per Local 10 News).

A fifth suspect was arrested and charged six months later. Timothy Brown, the youngest defendant at 16, was charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery (via ESPN). A case involving five charged with serious felonies, four of which were teenagers, would prove to be a long process for the courts. Though the murder was committed in 2007, it would take until 2015 for the final defendant to be convicted (via NFL). Prosecutors were able to first strike a deal with one defendant in early 2008, in hopes of sealing the fates of the other four.

Reuters reports that Hunte agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges of second-degree murder and armed burglary. Hunte agreed to testify against all four remaining defendants at their upcoming trials in exchange for a sentence of 29 years in prison. His May plea agreement would only be the beginning of the lengthy legal process that would end in all of those responsible for Taylor's murder being sentenced to sizable terms behind bars.

Every plan has a mastermind behind it

Hunte's testimony revealed that the botched burglary on Taylor's home was hatched by Mitchell. The five accused men and teens drove to Taylor's Palmetto Bay house with the sole intent of breaking in and stealing valuables. They assumed that no one would be home, as Taylor should have been on the road with the Commanders at the time (per CBS News).

After multiple legal delays, the first murder trial went underway in 2013. Rivera, who was revealed to be the gunman who shot Taylor, was found guilty by a jury after more than 16 hours of deliberation (via CBS News). Rivera was able to beat the first-degree murder charge but was convicted of murder in the second degree and armed burglary with assault. For his crimes, he was given a sentence of 57 and a half years in prison (per CBS News). 

With one defendant's case concluded from a plea bargain and the gunman headed away for what would most likely be living behind a prison wall, the state of Florida still had three more to try and convict. Though it would take several more years for this case to come to an end, the final outcomes would be well worth the state's time invested in the trials.

The courts were finally finished with the trials in 2015

The Associated Press (via CBS News) reports that Mitchell was found guilty of first-degree murder and armed burglary after a 2014 trial. His defense attorney argued that Mitchell was not the man who plotted the burglary and it had already been proven that he was not the gunman. He insisted that his client should only have to face a count of burglary. But the court didn't buy the defense's arguments. He was given a sentence of life in prison.

CBS News tells us that the fourth member of the group to go to trial was Wardlow. He eventually pled guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced to a 30-year prison term.

The final defendant to go to trial was Brown. He was 16 at the time of Taylor's murder and was staring down a sentence that would likely keep him in prison for most of his remaining natural life. But in the end, Brown was able to reach a plea agreement with prosecutors that was accepted by the judge. In exchange for pleading guilty to a lesser charge, Brown was handed an 18-year term in prison (per NFL). This would make him eligible for parole long before any of his accomplices.

Taylor wasn't supposed to be at home when he was murdered

The burglary was probably supposed to have been an easy job. The five arrived in one car and were able to make their way into Taylor's home, which they believed was unoccupied. Taylor, after all, was supposed to be with his team following the game that Sunday. In the wee hours of Monday morning, the burglars probably got the surprise of their lives when they discovered Taylor was at home, and so were his girlfriend and their young daughter.

Taylor had been set to be on the road with his team that weekend, but fate intervened. Taylor decided to not play that Sunday's game so that he could nurse an injury. He had aggravated his knee during a previous game and wasn't feeling 100% yet (per CBS News). The sentiment that the burglars were surprised at Taylor being home was echoed by Miami-Dade Country Police Director Robert Parker. In a statement to the media, the official stated that "they were certainly not looking to go there and kill anyone. They were expecting a residence that was not occupied. So murder or shooting someone was not their initial motive."

Whether it was their intention or not, a father and an NFL star would be slain as a result. Taylor's death was mourned by thousands in an arena at the University of Miami (per CBS News). Those in attendance included the Reverend Jesse Jackson, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and many of Taylor's NFL teammates.