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Suspects in NFL killing charged with murder

  • Story Highlights
  • Four men each face charge of felony first-degree murder
  • Investigation reveals the men thought the victim wasn't home, police say
  • Police say they have more than one confession in the case
  • Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor died in apparent home burglary
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FORT MYERS, Florida (CNN) -- Three men were charged Saturday with felony first-degree murder in the shooting death of NFL player Sean Taylor, a death police say was unplanned.

Eric Rivera Jr., 17; Venjah K. Hunte, 20; and Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 18, each faces charges of felony first-degree murder, burglary with a firearm and home invasion robbery while armed, according to court documents.

The charge of felony first-degree murder can be applied if someone is killed, even accidentally, during certain violent felony crimes.

Rivera appeared in a courtroom in Fort Myers, Florida, while Hunte and Wardlow appeared via video phone from jail.

A fourth suspect, Jason Scott Mitchell, 19, was processed too late to appear in court, officials said. He is to be in court Sunday, and he faces the same charges as the other three.

Taylor, 24, a safety for the Washington Redskins, died Tuesday, a day after he was shot during an apparent burglary at his Miami home.

The four suspects could be moved to Miami -- where the charges are based -- as soon as Sunday for a first-appearance hearing, said John Evans, Wardlow's lawyer.

Police have more than one confession in the case, according to Robert Parker, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Rivera's attorney, Wilbur Smith, said Saturday he "had been led to believe" that his client confessed, but wasn't sure after speaking to Rivera.

Asked about news reports alleging Rivera was the shooter, Smith said that he was aware of the stories, but that he had "not talked enough to Eric to find that out."

"The brief probable cause statement that we received did not indicate who was the shooter," he said.

Smith described his client as "stunned." Asked whether he showed any remorse, Smith said, "Oh yeah, you could see that in his eyes."

Evans said that despite a court affidavit alleging that his client confessed, he has not seen "a transcript or heard any audio ... about any confession from any of the four people who are currently charged."

The four men were expecting to find an unoccupied home, "so murder or shooting someone was not their initial motive," Parker said.

"They were certainly not looking to go there and kill anyone," he said. "Their obvious motive was to go there and steal the contents of the house."

"The key to solving this case was citizens' tips," he said.

The men knew Taylor lived at the house, said Parker, who added that additional arrests were possible.

A police official told CNN that officers are investigating whether one or more of the suspects knew members of Taylor's family.

At 1:45 a.m. Monday, Taylor's girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, called 911 and said someone had been shot.

Authorities have said she told police she was hiding under the bedding during the attack.

Garcia did not see what happened and could not provide a suspect description, Parker told reporters Wednesday.

Police said that Garcia and Taylor were awakened by noise in the living room, and that Taylor got up and locked the bedroom door. The door was kicked in and two shots were fired, one striking Taylor in the leg.

Garcia tried to call 911, and failing that, used her cell phone instead, police said. There was no evidence the line had been cut, Parker said Wednesday.

A break-in was also reported eight days earlier, Miami-Dade police said.

A police report said someone forced a window open and left a kitchen knife on a bed. Several drawers and a bedroom safe were searched during the break-in, according to the report.

Taylor was home unexpectedly because of an injury, his former attorney, Richard Sharpstein, told reporters Tuesday. "I think he was surprised, or they were surprised to find him there," he said.

Taylor spent four years with the Washington Redskins, but had been out with a sprained right knee. He did not play in Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.

Taylor was a first-round pick in the 2004 draft, according to his team's Web site.


He played at the University of Miami, where he was an All-American in 2003, and was also a high school standout in the city. Dubbing him "the prototype NFL free safety," the Redskins credited Taylor's team-leading tackling prowess.

He was regarded as one of the hardest-hitting players in the league. During his brief career, Taylor recorded 306 tackles (248 solo), two sacks and 12 interceptions. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Rich Phillips contributed to this report.

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