MIAMI — A fourth man charged in the shooting death of Washington
Redskins star Sean Taylor appeared in court Sunday and, like his
co-defendants, was denied bond.
Jason Mitchell, 19, appeared briefly via videoconference in a Fort Myers courtroom, about 100 miles from here. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, he responded quietly when asked if he understood the charges.
“He looks like he’s in shock,” said Sawyer Smith, one of his attorneys.
Three others — Eric Rivera, 17; Charles Wardlow, 18; and Venjah Hunte, 20 — made their first court appearance Saturday.
All four have been charged with unpremeditated murder, home invasion with a firearm or another deadly weapon and armed burglary.
Taylor died last Tuesday, one day after being shot at his home in an affluent Miami suburb. Police said the suspects were looking for a simple burglary, but it turned bloody when they were startled to find Taylor home.
The suspects all have prior arrests, according to Lee County Sheriff’s Office records.
Wardlow was arrested twice for selling marijuana and once for grand theft of a vehicle, and Hunte was arrested previously this year on drug and trespassing charges.
Mitchell has been arrested twice, most recently in October on charges of driving with a suspended license and violation of probation. Rivera was arrested in October for trafficking cocaine and methamphetamine, and he previously was behind bars for altering the identification number on a firearm.
Police and attorneys for two suspects have said some of the young men confessed, though they wouldn’t elaborate. Those who know the young suspects attempted to defend them.
Cordaveous Brown, 16, who said he was a close friend of Rivera, described the suspect as calm and quiet. “He’s not the type of guy to do something like this,” he said. A woman who identified herself as Wardlow’s grandmother called him “a sweet young man,” and Jose Ortiz, a 36-year-old neighbor of Hunte, said he’d never heard of any problems or trouble surrounding the accused.
Smith, who represents Mitchell and Rivera, simply said the suspects were terrified.
Police remain tightlipped about how the suspects wound up at Taylor’s home. The Miami Herald reported Mitchell cut the player’s lawn and did other chores at the house and that Taylor’s sister Sasha dates Wardlow’s cousin. The Naples Daily News quoted a woman who identified herself as Jason Mitchell’s mother as saying her son was at a birthday party at Taylor’s home within the past two months.
Taylor’s former attorney Richard Sharpstein said Taylor’s sister had a 21st birthday party at her brother’s home on Thanksgiving weekend. Bennie Williams, a neighbor to Wardlow’s cousin, said he had seen Taylor’s sister Sasha in the area recently.
Miami-Dade police wouldn’t confirm any of the possible links.
Police have said the four suspects were intent on stealing, not killing at the home Taylor bought for $900,000.
“Murder or shooting someone was not their initial motive,” Miami-Dade County police Director Robert Parker said.
Early last Monday, Taylor and his longtime girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, were awakened by loud noises at his home. He grabbed a machete for protection, but within moments, someone broke through the bedroom door and fired two shots, one hitting Taylor in the upper leg.
Neither the couple’s 18-month-old daughter, also named Jackie, nor Garcia were injured.
The bullet damaged the femoral artery in Taylor’s leg, causing significant blood loss. He never regained consciousness and died early last Tuesday. He was 24.
Authorities also haven’t said whether they’ve linked the suspects to a break-in at Taylor’s home eight days before the shooting. In that incident, someone pried open a front window, rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed.
Sharpstein said he had spoken with Taylor’s father since the arrests. Though the family was appreciative police had worked so effectively, Sharpstein said the news provided little relief.
“The arrest of Sean’s killer provides no comfort or solace to Sean’s family,” Sharpstein said. “They are grieving and haven’t buried their son, boyfriend and father yet.”