A burgundy football jersey with gold trim hangs in Richard Sharpstein’s law office on Brickell Avenue, one block from Miami’s waterfront. A black marker’s scrawl winds across the jersey’s No. 21: “Thank you for everything.” The wavy lines of an autograph sit below.
While the sporting world counts down the hours until the start of Sunday’s Super Bowl, family and friends of the onetime Washington Redskins superstar face a much longer wait for justice to be done.
Four years, two months and five days have drifted past since intruders awakened Taylor at 1:40 a.m. in his four-bedroom Palmetto Bay, Fla., home. The intruders kicked in the door of the master bedroom. Jackie Garcia, Taylor’s girlfriend, clutched their 18-month-old daughter under the bed. Taylor grabbed a machete. One intruder fired twice. A bullet pierced Taylor’s right thigh and femoral artery, then exited through a tiny hole and stopped in his lower left thigh. Twenty-seven hours later, the 24-year-old safety died.
The autopsy report later noted, among a dozen tattoos, two verses of Psalm 23 inked on Taylor’s left shoulder:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Five young men were charged with first-degree murder, but their trials have been delayed continuously. Since the first one was scheduled for April of 2008, the trial has been postponed 14 times. Defense attorneys shuffled. A gag order from 11th Judicial Circuit Judge Dennis J. Murphy banned attorneys, law enforcement and others connected to the case from discussing it with the media.
The latest try is April 16. Eric Rivera, 17 years old during the murder, is scheduled for trial then. The trials of three other defendants — Timmy Lee Brown, Jason Scott Mitchell and Charles Wardlow — will follow. The fifth man, Venjah Hunte, accepted a plea bargain but attempted to back out. His sentencing is scheduled for April 5.
Reminders of a life
Each day, Mr. Sharpstein looks at the jersey. Taylor gave it to him in 2006 after the lawyer and longtime family friend helped get an aggravated assault charge dropped as part of a negotiated plea bargain. Mr. Sharpstein remembers Taylor’s habit of saying “Mr. and Mrs. Sharpstein” and a shyness that mixed with distaste for speaking about himself.
Pedro Taylor, the police chief in Florida City, Fla., didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. Donna Junor, Sean’s mother, declined to comment.
Sometimes Mr. Sharpstein pulls out a photo of a smiling Taylor he keeps in a desk drawer. The photo and jersey remind him of life’s fragility and unpredictability. He thinks nothing can fill the hole Taylor’s death left in so many lives, and he thinks about the “lifelong torture” Pedro Taylor faces. Those thoughts often turn to Mr. Sharpstein’s family.