Jurors deliberating the fate of the man charged in the 2007 slaying of former Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor watched the suspect's videotaped confession again and asked a question, but didn't reach a verdict Thursday.
The jury told court personnel they wanted to quit by about 4 p.m. because some wanted to take their children trick-or-treating for Halloween, and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy sent them home.
The panel will return Friday to resume debating the case of Eric Rivera Jr., the 23-year-old Fort Myers man accused of fatally shooting Taylor during an ill-fated burglary attempt at the Pro Bowl safety's Miami-area home. Four other young men were charged, with one pleading guilty to second-degree murder charges and three awaiting trial later.
Rivera gave a detailed confession to investigators are few days after Taylor was killed, which the jurors watched again Thursday in the locked courtroom. Prosecutors say the confession was voluntarily given and is solid proof of Rivera's guilt, but the defense claims it was coerced by police under intense pressure to make an arrest in the high-profile case.
Testifying in his own defense, Rivera insisted that he did not shoot Taylor and never even went inside the house that night. Rivera said another member of the group killed Taylor.
The jurors asked one question Thursday that involved how to define whether Rivera was a main actor in the crime. Former federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein said the question is important because if the jurors decide he was a key player or "principal" in the crime, they could convict him of murder even if they can't agree whether he actually pulled the trigger.
"It is like reading tea leaves since none of us are in the jury room. However, it seems that one or more of the jurors is questioning the validity of the confession and that perhaps as a compromise, they will convict him as a principal," said Weinstein, now a defense lawyer in private practice.
If convicted of first-degree felony murder, Rivera faces a maximum life prison sentence, although jurors could opt for lesser second-degree murder or manslaughter counts. He is also charged with armed burglary.
Taylor, 24, was a first-round draft pick of the Redskins in 2004 and had signed an $18 million contract. Rivera testified the group drove from Fort Myers to Miami intending to steal thousands of dollars in cash they believed he had stashed in the house.
They thought Taylor would be with the Redskins at a game against Tampa Bay, but he was home with a knee injury, trial testimony showed.
Before joining the NFL, Taylor was a star with the University of Miami Hurricanes.
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