Man Sentenced to 57.5 Years in NFLer Sean Taylor's Murder

Eric Rivera, 23, was sentenced to 57.5 years in state prison following his conviction in November on second-degree murder and armed burglary charges.

By Steve Litz and NBC 6 Webteam
|  Thursday, Jan 23, 2014  |  Updated 4:02 PM PDT
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The man convicted of murder in the 2007 shooting death of Sean Taylor in Miami was sentenced Thursday. Eric Rivera, 23, was sentenced to 57.5 years in state prison following his conviction in November on second-degree murder and armed burglary charges. NBC 6's Steve Litz has the story.

The man convicted of murder in the 2007 shooting death of Sean Taylor in Miami was sentenced Thursday. Eric Rivera, 23, was sentenced to 57.5 years in state prison following his conviction in November on second-degree murder and armed burglary charges. NBC 6's Steve Litz has the story.

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Jury Finds Eric Rivera Jr Guilty

A jury found Eric Rivera Jr. guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of NFL star Sean Taylor in his Palmetto Bay home in 2007.
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The man convicted of murder in the 2007 shooting death of Sean Taylor in Miami was sentenced Thursday.

Eric Rivera, 23, was sentenced to 57.5 years in state prison following his conviction in November on second-degree murder and armed burglary charges.

"I know my words may not mean much," Rivera said Thursday in court. "Over the past six years I learned that Mr. Taylor was a good man. I'm not making excuses for my decisions or my actions. I'm truly sorry for your loss."

Taylor's parents said they were satisfied with the sentence.

"I respect what the judge did," said Taylor's mother Donna Junor.

Taylor, 24, who was a Pro Bowl safety for the Washington Redskins and former University of Miami star, died from the injuries he received in the botched invasion of his home in November 2007.

Rivera's relatives pleaded with the judge for a lenient sentence, saying Rivera was a good kid who had made a bad decision.

"First of all, he was a juvenile and second of all he's not responsible for his actions," said Rivera's uncle Emmanuel Baker, who said Rivera was just immature.

But prosecutors disagreed.

Rivera admitted in a videotaped confession to police days after Taylor's death that he fired the fatal shot after kicking in the bedroom door.

In the confession, Rivera said the group of five young men, all from the Fort Myers area, had driven to Taylor's house planning to steal large amounts of cash he kept inside. They thought Taylor would be out of town at a game against Tampa Bay, but didn't realize until it was too late that he was home with a knee injury.

Taylor's then-girlfriend, Jackie Garcia Haley, and their 18-month-old daughter were also home at the time. They were not hurt.

Four other men were also charged in the case and three will be tried later. Venjah Hunte, 25, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary charges in a deal that calls for a 29-year prison sentence.

Rivera, who testified in his own defense at his trial, claimed it was Hunte who brought the 9mm handgun and who shot Taylor. Rivera insisted that he was not told about the burglary plot until the group was driving across Alligator Alley toward Miami, and that he stayed in the car outside Taylor's house the whole time.

The murder weapon was never found. Police say it was stuffed in a sock and thrown into the Everglades.

Taylor was shot in the upper thigh, damaging his femoral artery and causing massive blood loss. Witnesses say Taylor was shot when he confronted the group with a machete outside his bedroom. A medical examiner said he was essentially dead on arrival at a hospital on Nov. 26, 2007, although doctors did manage to restart his heart for a while.

"I went to the house," said father Pete Taylor in court. "I went to that house with my cousin and I cleaned up every bit of blood of my son, every bit of blood of my son."

Aside from Rivera's confession, police found shoe prints outside Taylor's home that matched sneakers some in the group were wearing that night. Witnesses testified Rivera was seen driving a rented black Toyota Highlander believed used in the crime, and another witness said the group of five had burglary tools when they came to her house after Taylor was shot.

Taylor, a first-round Redskins draft pick in 2004, signed an $18 million contract with the team and was becoming one of the NFL's top defensive players when he was slain. Several witnesses, including Garcia Haley, testified that he liked to keep large amounts of cash around his Miami house.

One of the men charged in the slaying, 25-year-old Jason Mitchell, attended a birthday party a few weeks earlier at the house for Taylor's half-sister, Sasha Johnson — who lived in Fort Myers and knew Rivera. She testified that Taylor gave her a purse containing $10,000 in cash at the party, which was witnessed by all the guests.

That event put the wheels in motion for the burglary plot, witnesses said. Rivera himself testified that some in the group thought they would get between $100,000 and $200,000 to split up.

Also charged and awaiting trial are Mitchell, Charles Wardlow, 24, and Timothy Brown, 22.

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