Tag Archives: eric rivera

Eric Rivera Sentenced to 57.5 Years for Sean Taylor Murder

Mr. Rivera was sentenced to just short of 60 years for his conviction and involvement in the murder of Sean Taylor. It’s a lot of time, but it’s less than the life sentence he was facing. It is one of the longest “term of years” I have seen someone sentenced to in Florida, that is, short of a life sentence. Mr. Rivera will have to serve at least 85% of the sentence before any possibility of release. Since he is a relatively young man, he has the prospect of being released during his lifetime.

Eric Rivera's Mug Shot

Eric Rivera’s Mug Shot

The trial itself will be appealed, and having followed the case, I think there are some interesting issues that could cause the verdict to be overturned. One major issue is that the judge refused to allow the defense expert to testify about his opinions that the confession was not voluntary. I suspect the appellate court will have concerns about the Defendant not being allowed to present key evidence of his defense to the jury. Crimcourts will continue to follow the case.

Eric Rivera to be Sentenced for Sean Taylor Murder

 

Eric Rivera's Mug Shot

Eric Rivera’s Mug Shot

Eric Rivera faces life in prison when he is sentenced today. He was convicted in the home invasion that led to the killing of NFL star Sean Taylor. He was not found guilty of 1st degree murder, which would have mandated a life sentence, but still could face life.

How the Cops Nearly Blew the Murder Trial of Eric Rivera #seantaylor

  • The State’s case against Eric Rivera was premised heavily on his videotaped confession.
  • In spite of that recorded confession, the jury found him not guilty of the most serious offense, after days of deliberation
Eric Rivera's Confession

Eric Rivera’s Confession

Four days into the jury deliberation on the charges against Eric Rivera, it was shaping up to be a greater upset than the Casey Anthony acquittal. Unlike that case, based wholly on circumstantial evidence, the case against Rivera looked like a slam dunk. Just days after NFL and Miami Hurricane star Sean Taylor was killed during a botched robbery, tips led detectives to Rivera and four confederates. Rivera agreed to speak to detectives and, on video, admitted to taking part in the robbery, kicking in Taylor’s door, and firing the fatal shot. Trial watchers expected a very quick finding of guilt, and the extensive deliberations must have had the prosecutors sweating.

But how did a case that appeared so strong end up hanging in the balance for so long? The confession was played for the jury, in spite of defense efforts to exclude it from consideration. The defense team did a masterful job of creating doubt in the face of their own client’s damning statement.

Eric Rivera on the Stand

Eric Rivera on the Stand

The Defense attacked the case by challenging the validity of the confession, alleging that it had been coerced by law enforcement. Officers testified to the contrary, stating that Rivera chose to speak with them completely voluntarily. But the poor procedures utilized by the cops cast the whole statement in a questionable light and opened a door that the defense was able to exploit. The detectives failed to record all of their communication with the suspect. That allowed the defense to allege wrongdoing prior to the recorded segment. The Defendant testified that detectives suggested his family was at risk to compel him to make the statement, and that they fed him facts they needed him to include. Since not everything was recorded, the State didn’t have concrete evidence to refute it. They only had the testimony of detectives, whose motives were clear and whose overall behavior was probably considered unprofessional, at best, by the jury. Additionally, law enforcement looked bad by not allowing Rivera’s parents to be present (he was a minor at the time), by conducting interviews at an unusual location, and by not following up on some of the information that could have confirmed the statements. The law enforcement shortcomings played right into the defense theory that they were looking to close a high-profile case, and this kid was a convenient patsy for experienced detectives to manipulate into confessing.

The jury did not believe Rivera’s testimony that he had no involvement. They found him guilty of both murder and the burglary, though by finding that he was not in actual possession of the firearm, they essentially discounted some of his statement and did not find him guilty of being the shooter. The state is celebrating that they still scored two convictions to life felonies, and probably won’t address the troubling ramifications of the jury’s finding. Because of the poorly conducted investigation and interrogation by detectives in the case, the jury chose not to accept part of the Defendant’s statement. That means one of two troubling possibilities: 1. That the police actions rendered the Defendant’s confession unbelievable. OR 2. The detectives extracted a false confession to things that the defendant didn’t do.

Think about that. Clearly the first possibility is more likely. Either way, it’s scary. Prosecutors may have been lucky to get any conviction in light of the trouble the jury had reaching consensus on this case. Eric Rivera had a chance to walk, due directly to poor detective work. The aggressive tactics that sought a confession at the expense of ensuring due process and the Defendant’s rights nearly caused the confession to be fatally flawed. It took masterful work by his defense team, Chris Brown and Janese Caruthers, to create some doubt in the jury’s mind. And without a good cross examination of the Defendant on the stand, Rivera may have completely sold his testimony to the jury.

And here’s another scary thought. Rivera testified that co-defendant Venjah Hunte was the actual shooter. Hunte already got a deal from the state, which presumably included him giving testimony. Apparently, his testimony was unimpressive enough the state declined to call him as a witness in this trial. Rivera has been acquitted of being the shooter, but the man he implicated as the shooter will be a free man in less than 20 years from now.

Rivera has quite a few issues to raise on appeal, and some of the rulings were risky. First and foremost, the judge ruled that the defense expert on coerced confessions was not allowed to testify.  The defense will challenge the ruling denying the suppression of the confession, though the appellate courts generally defer to trial courts on such factual determinations. There will likely be several more issues raised. The appeal will follow sentencing which won’t happen until at least December. The Court indicated a desire to sentence before Christmas, but the pre-sentence report won’t be complete until about Dec. 10, so it would not be  a surprise for the sentencing to be pushed until January.

UPDATE: Verdict in Sean Taylor / Eric Rivera Trial #seantaylor

The jury will be delivering the verdict shortly:
https://twitter.com/PatriciaMazzei

Watch live, here: http://www.local10.com/news/sean-taylor-murder-trial/-/1717324/22540906/-/f5uhjjz/-/index.html

Eric Rivera was found guilty of the lesser charge of Second Degree Murder, and the jury did not find that he possessed the firearm, as well as Burglary with an Assault or Battery. Both charges are life felonies, which means that Rivera may be sentenced to life in prison without parole on either or both. He does not face the presumptively automatic life sentence that would accompany a 1st Degree Murder conviction. (He is not eligible for the death penalty regardless, as he was a minor at the time of the offense.) Nor is there an automatic 10/20/Life sentence since he was not found guilty of actual possession of the firearm. He will score about 25 years as a minimum sentence under Florida’s criminal code scoresheet, but should expect more. His attorneys will be trying to convince the judge not to impose a life sentence.

The judge has requested a pre-sentence report to be completed by Dec. 10, at which point the sentencing hearing will be set. That probably won’t occur until January.

Eric Rivera Jury to Resume Deliberations in Sean Taylor Trial #seantaylor

Eric Rivera's Mug Shot

Eric Rivera’s Mug Shot

  • The jury will resume deliberations this morning in the Miami trial of Eric Rivera, accused of the murder of football star Sean Taylor

The jury has been deliberating the fate of Eric Rivera, accused of shooting Sean Taylor, since Wednesday. Rivera gave a videotaped confession to his involvement in the crime, including that he was the one who kicked in the door with his Nike Shox shoes, and fired the shot that killed Taylor. He testified at trial that he did not take part in the crime, and that his confession was coerced. Rivera was only 17 at the time, and was not given access to his parents when police questioned him. The State’s case is based almost entirely on the confession. Clearly the jury is grappling with some issues, as their deliberations have carried over several days.

The deliberations have not been without intrigue, as the jury was accidentally allowed access to a law book that had been left in the courtroom. Both sides had the opportunity to request a mistrial, but declined to do so. Generally, everybody involved in a trial does not want a mistrial, as it means starting the trial over from scratch. Often, the Defense is more likely to request it, as a retrial insures their client will not be going to prison in the near future. However, the extensive deliberations must give the Defense some hope that this jury is sympathetic to their argument. Also, a second trial generally favors the State, who has the burden of proof. A trial run increases the likelihood of success at retrial. As it is, this jury could go either way.

Trial Testimony

Trial Testimony

The jury asked some questions on Friday, and one of the questions related to lesser charges. That could indicate what the jury might be considering. There were additional questions related to the Principal Theory, as well.

After the trial, I will do a follow up discussing why I think the jury has grappled so much with a case that had a recorded confession. Hint, it’s not the prosecution’s fault. Could Rivera walk? I doubt it… that would be a bigger upset than Casey Anthony’s acquittal. But even a conviction to a lesser charge would be a huge defense victory. A hung jury also remains a possibility.

I will try to update as things come up this week. The Miami Herald has had reporters live-tweeting the case. Mad About Trial has video archives of the court proceedings here.

No Verdict Today in Sean Taylor Case

The jury will be back tomorrow to decide Eric Rivera’s fate:

No verdict today in trial of accused Sean Taylor shooter Eric Rivera. Jurors will be back Friday.

Eric Rivera Jury Still Deliberating Sean Taylor Murder Charges

Eric Rivera on Monday

Eric Rivera on Monday

The jury only spent about an hour deliberating before breaking for the night last night, and have been back at it this morning. They have just asked a question, and its an interesting one about the Principal Theory. According to @patriciamazzei of the Miami Herald, who is live tweeting the Rivera trial today, they asked if both elements of principal theory must be proven. Perhaps they are having trouble finding one of the elements. Most questions don’t sound good for the defense, but this one certainly does. That’s far from meaning he’s about to walk, but it is a positive sign that the jury is struggling with something. Perhaps they aren’t convinced he’s the shooter, and are trying to determine if the principal theory applies.

Principal theory applies to anyone who knowingly aids, abets, or in any way encourages a crime to occur. Both elements must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt for it to apply. The elements are printed below in the standard jury instruction. I won’t be around this afternoon, so I’m afraid my updates will be slow coming. The jury has ordered lunch, so they have a while left to deliberate.

3.5(a) PRINCIPALS

§ 777.011, Fla.Stat.

            If the defendant helped another person or persons [commit] [attempt to commit] a crime, the defendant is a principal and must be treated as if [he] [she] had done all the things the other person or persons did if:

 

1.         the defendant had a conscious intent that the criminal act be done and

 

2.         the defendant did some act or said some word which was intended to and which did incite, cause, encourage, assist, or advise the other person or persons to actually [commit] [attempt to commit] the crime.

 

To be a principal, the defendant does not have to be present when the crime is [committed] [or] [attempted]. See State v. Dene, 533 So.2d 265 (Fla. 1988).