The fate of a Florida man accused of fatally shooting Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor during a failed 2007 burglary is in the hands of a jury, who started deciding the case on Wednesday.
In a closing argument, a prosecutor urged the panel to rely primarily on Eric Rivera Jr.'s confession days after the crime, but Rivera testified in his own defence that police pressured him to confess and insisted that he didn't even go inside Taylor's Miami-area home that night. Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin said Rivera's story was full of holes and jurors should consider his Nov. 30, 2007, videotaped confession overwhelming evidence of his guilt.
"He swore to God to tell the truth, and the truth is, he shot Sean Taylor. Nobody threatened him in any way possible," Rubin said. "When you heard him testify, you have every right to believe that he lied to your faces."
Rivera, 23, faces life in prison if convicted rather than the death penalty because he was 17 at the time. Four other young men, all from the Fort Myers area, were also charged in the case. One of them pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary charges in a deal with prosecutors. Trial for the remaining three will come later.
The jury began considering Rivera's fate late Wednesday afternoon and broke for the night a few hours later to return Thursday.
In his closing argument, Rivera attorney Chris Brown said police acting on a tip were too zealous in coercing the confession out of Rivera, pressured by the high-profile nature of the case. Brown said they had no fingerprints, no DNA evidence, no witnesses and no murder weapon.
"That plan was, we have to get confessions and we have to close this case. This was the biggest thing going in Miami at the time," Brown said. "It was, whoever we can get."
Pro Bowl safety
According to trial testimony, Rivera and the others drove across Alligator Alley from Fort Myers and intended to burglarize Taylor's home because one of them had seen at a birthday party weeks earlier that he kept large amounts of cash inside. They didn't expect the Pro Bowl safety and former Miami Hurricanes star to be there because the Redskins had a game that day at Tampa Bay, but Taylor was home with an injury.
Rivera said in the confession that he kicked open Taylor's bedroom door and shot the NFL star in the upper thigh after Taylor confronted the group with a machete. A medical examiner testified that the 9mm bullet damaged Taylor's femoral artery, causing massive blood loss, and he died soon after at age 24.
As Rubin described the shooting, Taylor's then-girlfriend Jackie Garcia Haley sat with her head buried in her hands, crying occasionally. She was in the bedroom along with the couple's 18-month-old daughter the night Taylor was gunned down. They were not hurt.
Aside from the confession, Rubin ticked off a list of other incriminating evidence, including cellphone records establishing that Rivera and the group were near Taylor's house that night, shoeprints at the scene that matched shoes two of them wore and burglary tools that came from Rivera's garage.
The gun was tossed into the Everglades. In his testimony Tuesday, Rivera claimed another member of the group brought the gun, killed Taylor and threw the weapon into the swamp.
At one point, Rubin said, the men fled Taylor's house when they heard a noise, but decided to go back inside anyway.
"They were greedy. They wanted the money. It's as simple as that when you get right down to it," Rubin said.
The fact that Rivera brought the gun likely emboldened them, the prosecutor said.
"It's to do whatever is necessary, whatever it takes, to get the money they drove all the way to get," he said.