MIAMI — A jury spent a fruitless Friday deliberating the fate of a Florida man accused of fatally shooting Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor, but possible juror misconduct emerged when an unauthorized legal book was discovered in the jury room.
Jurors in the trial of 23-year-old Eric Rivera Jr. were sent home for the weekend after failing for a third day to reach a verdict. They signaled that they were tired and wanted to return Monday to resume deliberations.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy urged the jurors, who clearly seem to be struggling with the case, to take the things off their minds, perhaps by watching some college football games, but to avoid news accounts of the trial.
“Forget about it. Relax. Get your minds clear,” Murphy said.
The book, a 2010 edition of state criminal law and rules used by prosecutors, was found after deliberations ended Thursday. Murphy had told jurors earlier they could not bring any law books into the room and to rely solely on his 33-page jury instructions.
Rivera could have asked for a mistrial for misconduct and asked Murphy to question the jurors about how the book may have been consulted, but he and his lawyers agreed not to do so. And Murphy said he would simply let the 12-person panel resume deliberations, now in their third day.
“I think we’ll all be more vigilant,” Murphy said.
Rivera’s lawyers could revisit the law book issue on appeal if he is convicted. His family formed a circle, holding hands outside the courtroom, and said a prayer after the brief hearing.
Rivera is charged with murder and armed burglary in the November 2007 shooting death of Taylor, a Pro Bowl safety who previously starred at the University of Miami. Trial testimony showed that Taylor was shot after confronting a group of five Fort Myers-area young men who had broken into his Miami-area home in hopes of stealing cash they thought he kept inside.
Rivera confessed to police on videotape a few days after Taylor’s killing that he shot Taylor with a 9mm handgun he brought that night. But testifying in his own defense, Rivera said he never went inside the house and that Taylor was slain by someone else in the group. Rivera also testified that he was coerced into confessing by investigators under intense pressure to make an arrest in the high-profile case.
At midday Friday, the jury sent out written questions that involved the concept of being a major actor or “principal” in a crime involving several people. Murphy’s jury instructions said that Rivera could be convicted even if jurors are unable to agree on whether he actually pulled the trigger.
Rivera faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree felony murder. Jurors could also opt for lesser second-degree murder or manslaughter counts. One of their questions revolved around some of the elements of those two lesser crimes.
Testimony showed the men thought the home would be empty because the Redskins had a game that day at Tampa Bay, but Taylor was home with a knee injury.
Of the other four suspects, one pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 29-year prison sentence. The other three will go to trial later.
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