Eric Rivera testified in his defense today, while fighting charges that he killed Sean Taylor. He testified that he had nothing to do with the shooting, that he was riding along with the other men, and never got out of the car at Taylor’s house. He testified that he did not even own a pair of shoes like the ones that kicked in Taylor’s door. Further, he testified that Venjah Hunte, on of the co-defendants, had the firearm, and confessed to firing the fatal shot. Hunte has already accepted a deal for taking part in the killing, and is believed to be available to testify on behalf of the state against Rivera. He was not called during the case-in-chief.
This is in stark contrast to the testimony played Monday from the recorded statement Rivera gave investigators. Rivera told them, on video tape, that he took part in the burglary, carried the gun, and shot Taylor. He testified today that the statement was coerced by police, that they fed him the information and suggested his family would be in danger unless he confessed. Rivera’s own words are the most damaging evidence against him. The State pounded him on cross, with both the inconsistencies in his statements, and he earlier testimony from another hearing that while he claimed the cops acted improperly, that the confession was true. The Detectives previously testified that Rivera was cooperative, and that no coercion was used or needed when he spoke to them.
The defense had to put him on the stand, the only way to counter the confession was to have him testify that he didn’t do it, and to explain why he would admit to a murder if he didn’t commit it. That is a hard sell to a jury, especially when he has made multiple inconsistent statements. The Defense had asked to put on an expert about false confessions. The judge had prohibited them from using that witness, though they asked the court to reconsider. The court runs the risk of creating a strong appellate issue if it precludes a key defense witness from testifying. The Defense will still get at least the standard jury instruction cautioning jurors to be careful when a Defendant’s out of court statement is put before them. The Defense is also asking for some special instructions for the jury, as well.
The court appears set to stay late today to try to wrap up testimony. That way arguments could begin in the morning. As of this posting, the Defendant is still on the stand. Mad About Trial has video, and archived video of all the testimony. The Miami Herald’s @DavidOvalle305 has a good live Tweet.
UPDATE: Looks like arguments won’t begin until after lunch. Jury should still get case this afternoon, could reach a verdict today, or come back tomorrow. It may depend on how long arguments last. Latest update from Miami Herald includes testimony updates from yesterday evening.