Two thousand one hundred and sixty-nine days after Sean Taylor died, the long-delayed word finally emerged at 2:54 p.m. Monday in a Miami courtroom.
The word convicted Eric Rivera of second-degree murder after the jury deliberated four days in the killing of the Redskins star during a botched burglary.
There is temptation to find solace in the word uttered by Judge Dennis J. Murphy that ended the first trial in the case. Relief. Satisfaction. Even resolution.
But all that crashes against the night in November 2007 when two 9mm bullets tore through the 24-year-old Taylor in his Palmetto, Fla., home. One cut the femoral artery in the Pro Bowl safety’s right leg. It left a wound no verdict can fully heal.
Rivera, 23, will spend between 25 years and life in prison depending on the sentencing that comes in December, paying each day for what happened inside the modest home on Old Cutler Road.
Taylor, though, is gone. Too young. Too soon. The absence is as permanent as the words from Psalm 23 etched on his gravestone.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
The wound weaves through Pedro Taylor’s words about his son’s death.
“There’s never going to be any closure,” he said last fall. “It’s hard to lose a child. It’s hard to even fathom me burying a kid. I respect the fact that God makes no mistakes. But at the same time, there won’t ever be closure because it’s so big and my heart’s too big. When you lose something that big, it really leaves a pit inside you. It’s hard. Very hard.”
But life crawls forward through the glaring hole that’s never far away thanks to No. 21 jerseys and banners and patches and decals that emerge each time the Redskins step onto the field.
Delay after delay shoved the long wait for justice into the future.
Well over a dozen trial dates were set, then cancelled since the first attempt in April 2008. A new reason emerged with each postponement. Rivera and three other defendants fired lawyers, then fired their replacements. All the while, they sat in jail along with a fifth man, Venjah Hunte, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a deal with prosecutors and is serving 29 years.
Earlier this year, Rivera filed a motion to represent himself and, not long after withdrawing the request, his (latest) new lawyers attempted to get Judge Murphy to disqualify himself. The judge declined. During the trial, Rivera attempted to worm out of a videotaped confession to police, where he admitted the whole sordid tale, with the shifting, dubious excuses of a guilty man clinging to delusions of freedom in the face of a first-degree murder charge. The dramatics were typical of the case that seemed to have no end.
Enough time for the Redskins to play 95 games in the regular-season and playoffs.
Enough time for Robert Griffin III, to graduate from Copperas Cove High School and Baylor University, win the Heisman Trophy, become the long-sought face of the Redskins and, of course, return from his damaged right knee.
Enough time for Taylor’s daughter, Jackie, to go from 18 months old when the assailants burst into her home to almost 8 years old today.
The verdict can’t change growing up without her father.
Instead, the verdict means one man’s life continues in an orange jumpsuit behind bars. Justice, such as it is, can’t resurrect Taylor.
Three more trials remain in the coming months. Timmy Lee Brown. Jason Scott Mitchell. Charles Wardlow.
Legal gymnastics can only postpone the inevitable for so long.
A years-old gag order Judge Murphy instituted on those connected to the case remains in effect. Hearings have been closed. Key documents sealed. Secrecy, or something approaching it, cloaked the proceedings leading to the first trial.
But the delays finally ran out. The trial happened. Rivera is guilty.
But the wound remains.