A Florida jury convicted a man prosecutors called the ringleader of a botched 2007 Miami-area burglary that ended with the fatal shooting of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor.
The 12-person jury deliberated almost four hours Tuesday before finding 25-year-old Jason Mitchell guilty of first-degree felony murder and armed burglary. Trial testimony indicated that Mitchell hatched the plot for five Fort Myers-area men to burglarize Taylor's home near Miami after previously seeing Taylor giving friends and family thousands of dollars in cash.
Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin said Mitchell initially tried and failed to burglarize the home alone in mid-November 2007 before returning with the group on Thanksgiving weekend to finish the job.
"It doesn't matter whether they planned to kill him (Taylor) or intended to kill him, he died as a result of that burglary and they are all responsible for it," Rubin told the 12-person jury in closing arguments. "At the center of it all was Jason Mitchell."
Mitchell did not testify in his own defense but he did confess to police in a sworn, videotaped statement.
Mitchell faces a potential sentence of life in prison.
Mitchell's lawyer, Robert Barrar, said Mitchell should be held responsible only for burglary, not for Rivera's actions.
"Sure Jason Mitchell was there. But Eric Rivera did it on his own, on a whim," Barrar said. "Jason Mitchell was not a part of any plan to kill anybody."
Taylor, 24, was shot in the upper thigh after confronting the group of burglars with a machete outside his bedroom door. The bullet severed Taylor's femoral artery, causing him to quickly bleed to death. In the bedroom when the shooting happened were Taylor's girlfriend and their infant daughter.
The burglars thought Taylor would be out of town at a Redskins game, police said, but he was home nursing a knee injury.
Aside from the confession, investigators found shoe prints at Taylor's house that matched Mitchell's sneakers and had cell phone evidence showing that Mitchell phoned another member of the group in the vicinity of the slaying that night.
The man who authorities say fired the fatal shot, Eric Rivera Jr., was convicted last fall of second-degree murder and sentenced to 57 years in prison.
Two other men await trial. Venjah Hunte, 25, previously pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary charges in a deal that calls for a 29-year prison sentence.
Taylor was a Pro Bowl safety who had starred at the University of Miami. A first-round Redskins draft pick in 2004, Taylor signed an $18 million contract with the team and was becoming one of the NFL's top defensive players when he was slain.
"He had everything to live for," Rubin said. "Sean Taylor was on top of the world."