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Florida man found guilty of killing NFL's Sean Taylor

Eric Rivera, Jr. stands as the jury enters the courtroom during closing arguments of the Sean Taylor murder trial in Miami, Florida October
Eric Rivera, Jr. stands as the jury enters the courtroom during closing arguments of the Sean Taylor murder trial in Miami, Florida October

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida jury on Monday convicted 23-year-old Eric Rivera, Jr. of second-degree murder in the 2007 slaying of Washington Redskins football star Sean Taylor during a botched burglary at his Miami-area home.

Rivera was also found guilty of armed burglary.

After confessing to law enforcement agents that he killed Taylor, Rivera testified during the trial that authorities had pressured him into the confession. He blamed the killing on one of the four co-defendants in the case.

Prosecutors said Rivera, who was charged with first-degree murder, and the four co-defendants hatched a burglary plot after one of the group visited Taylor's house and saw him give his sister $10,000 in cash.

"The truth is he's guilty," state prosecutor Reid Rubin argued during closing arguments last week, disputing the defense claim that police coerced the confession from Rivera, who was 17 when he was arrested for the shooting.

"He admitted it under oath and he admitted in court," Rubin said.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors presented cell phone records showing calls relayed to and from Rivera's phone through a tower near Taylor's home and a print of a Nike Shox sneaker found near the concrete wall around the house.

While Rivera confessed to owning a pair of such sneakers, defense attorneys said the videotaped confession came after a lengthy interrogation during which Rivera was denied food and phone calls.

"They created a secret interrogation situation away from family, away from friends, away from parents," defense attorney Chris Brown told the court during the trial. "They counted on the fact that you would say 'they're police officers, I believe them.'"

Rivera was arrested less than a week after the shooting. Defense attorneys argued that investigators ambushed Rivera outside of his home, confiscated his cell phone and shuttled him to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement building, the location of which was not widely known.

Rivera was one of five young men charged with murder, home invasion and burglary and the first to face a jury after years of legal delays.

One defendant, Venjah Hunte, now 25, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2010 and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Still awaiting trial are Charles Wardlow, 24; Jason Scott Mitchell, 25; and Timothy Brown, 22.

Taylor was an All-American at the University of Miami who led the nation for interceptions in 2003. The Washington Redskins drafted him fifth overall in the 2004 National Football League draft and he became a starter after three games.

(Editing by Kevin Gray)

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