MIAMI (AP) — A man on trial in the slaying of Washington Redskins star safety Sean Taylor admitted to breaking into the NFL player’s home, kicking down the bedroom door and shooting Taylor, and drew a detailed diagram of the house, labeling himself as the shooter, according to a videotaped confession played for the jury Thursday.
Defendant Eric Rivera Jr. wasn’t handcuffed but came willingly to talk to authorities in Fort Myers in November 2007, a Miami-Dade police detective testified. At first, the now 23-year-old told investigators he stayed home all weekend and maybe caught a movie with his girlfriend. As authorities pressed, he said he had a bad memory and that everything was foggy, said lead investigator Juan Segovia.
When authorities walked another defendant by the room where Rivera was being questioned, Rivera grew noticeably anxious, Segovia said. He refused to make eye contact and kept rubbing his hands together. One of the detectives gave a moving speech, saying Taylor was an American hero who was doing nothing wrong but was at home sleeping with his baby and girlfriend when he was killed, Segovia said.
That’s when Rivera’s eyes grew teary and he nodded that he had been involved. Rivera and four co-defendants heard Taylor liked to keep a lot of cash around the house, maybe as much as $200,000. They thought Taylor would be with the Redskins at a game at Tampa Bay the night they broke into his house — but instead he was home with a knee injury, the detective said Rivera told him.
The plan was to “go in and get the money and leave,” Rivera said in a videotaped confession played for the jury.
Rivera admitted driving the black SUV, parking in front of Taylor’s home, hopping a concrete wall and using a crowbar to break into a back patio door. As they searched the home for money, they heard a noise, got spooked and ran back to the car. When they re-entered, Rivera said he kicked in Taylor’s bedroom door.
“He was like 2 feet away, got something in his hand and that’s when I shot,” he said.
Rivera told detectives he didn’t think anyone would be home and didn’t realize Taylor was the one he’d shot. In the video, Rivera, who has long hair and is seated next to an American flag, shows little emotion and often gives one-word answers.
Jackie Garcia, Taylor’s girlfriend, who was also inside the bedroom, became noticeably upset as the detective recounted details of the slaying and rested her head on her knees in court. She sat near several members of Taylor’s family, including his father, Florida City Police Chief Pedro Taylor, in the packed Miami-Dade County courtroom.
Taylor was shot in the upper thigh, which severed his femoral artery. The former University of Miami star had a machete in his hand, and Garcia and their infant daughter were also in the bedroom, though they were not hurt. Taylor died the next day from massive blood loss. The 24-year-old was a Pro Bowl safety for the Redskins who had previously been a popular, locally grown star at the University of Miami.
“He knew he hit him in the area of the leg. He said the victim fell very rapidly and very hard,” Segovia said.
After the shooting, Rivera said he shot through a glass door so he could escape quickly. The group jumped back into the SUV and as they drove across an interstate known as Alligator Alley, they wiped off the gun, stuffed it into a sock and threw it into the Everglades, according to the confession. Rivera said he burned his clothes on the way home.
The validity of a detailed, videotaped confession is the central question for jurors to decide in the first-degree murder trial.
The video shows Rivera waiving his rights to an attorney and to remain silent. The detective also said Rivera turned down an offer to call his parents several times.
Rivera drew diagrams of the rooms and where everyone was at the time, labeling himself as a stick figure that shot Taylor, the detective said. He also said he was wearing the Nike Shox when he kicked in the door and seemed amused when investigators showed him a footprint lifted from the door, Segovia testified.
Rivera’s attorney, Janese Caruthers, countered that Rivera was coerced into the confession by a team of investigators who had little evidence and was looking for someone to take the fall in a high-pressure case. The defense also noted detectives didn’t have any fingerprints, DNA or gunshot residue linking Rivera to the crime.
Rivera was brought in after being pulled over during a traffic stop. After the teen confessed, police called his father who came to the station.
But Segovia said Rivera “was very open, very relaxed. … He was eager to talk to us” and was given an hourlong pizza and soda break.
Because Rivera was 17 at the time of the crime, his maximum possible sentence if convicted is life in prison rather than the death penalty.