MIAMI (CBSDC/AP) — The trial of the man accused of pulling the trigger in the 2007 slaying of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor is nearing an end.
Closing arguments were scheduled Wednesday in the trial of 23-year-old Eric Rivera Jr. After that, the 12-person jury will begin deliberating Rivera’s fate. He faces life in prison if convicted of murder.
Rivera took the stand Tuesday, blaming the shooting on another member of the group of five that drove from Fort Myers to Miami, supposedly to steal large amounts of cash they thought Taylor kept around. Rivera said he and a friend never even got out of the car parked outside Taylor’s house.
Rivera said another member of the gang, Venjah Hunte, had a gun and acknowledged firing the fatal shot. Hunte has pleaded guilty in the case but did not admit to shooting Taylor.
“I just thought they was going to go in and get the money and come back out,” Rivera testified. “I was just sitting in the passenger seat.”
Under questioning by defense attorney Janese Caruthers, Rivera flatly denied shooting Taylor and denied that he disposed of the 9mm handgun by throwing it into the Everglades. He also denied wearing the type of Nike shoes that left prints around Taylor’s house and said the idea of burglarizing Taylor’s home was not his.
It wasn’t until the group was driving across Florida that Taylor’s name came up.
“I found out, they was just saying that Sean Taylor had money in his house, they were just going to go in and get it. They already know where it’s at,” Rivera testified.
Prosecutors earlier played a detailed, videotaped confession by Rivera, including diagrams he did showing where the group was in Taylor’s house when the former University of Miami star was shot. On the stand Tuesday, Rivera said he simply repeated back to investigators the story they had told him, and said he was concerned when they said his family might be in danger.
“‘Tell us your side of the story, and we’ll make sure nothing happens to your family,'” Rivera quoted police as telling him. “At that point they’re telling me I’m going to jail, these guys are saying I did it. It was about my family at that point. I thought they might be in danger or something.”
On cross-examination, Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin noted that if Rivera was telling the truth Tuesday, most of that earlier confession was a lie. Rivera acknowledged that police had properly read him his Miranda rights against self-incrimination before the confession, and that the burglary tools used at Taylor’s house came from his garage. Rubin also pointed to phone records showing several inconsistencies in Rivera’s latest version of events and a profanity-laced letter he wrote attempting to get a witness to change her testimony.
“You did shoot Sean Taylor, didn’t you?” Rubin asked.
“No, I did not,” Rivera replied.
Rubin then asked if Rivera could benefit by lying.
“I don’t know, it’s possible,” Rivera said.
Rivera, 17 at the time of the slaying, faces life in prison if convicted. Earlier testimony indicated that the five young men apparently thought Taylor would be out of town at a Redskins game that night, but he was home with a knee injury.
Prosecutors say Taylor died of massive blood loss after he was shot in the upper thigh. He had confronted the group with a machete after authorities say Rivera kicked in his bedroom door, where his girlfriend and 18-month-old daughter cowered under the covers.
Rivera said he bore Taylor, a Pro Bowl safety, no ill will.
“I thought he was a good football player,” Rivera testified.
Three others charged in the case face trial later.
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