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'Easy cash' was motive in killing NFL's Sean Taylor, jury told

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A man accused of murdering Washington Redskins' defensive star Sean Taylor hatched a plot with friends to "score some easy cash" by robbing the NFL player's home, a Miami prosecutor told jurors in his trial on Monday.

Defendant Eric Rivera is accused of firing the gunshot that killed Taylor, 24, in November 2007 and faces up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and armed burglary.

Prosecutors said Rivera and four friends hatched a burglary plot after one of the group visited Taylor's Miami-area home for a birthday party and saw the football player give his sister $10,000 in cash. The suspects, who are from the Fort Myers area on Florida's Gulf coast, figured there was more money in the home, state attorney Ray Araujo said in opening statements.

"The plan was drive a few hours, break into the house and find the money," said Araujo, who described Taylor as an all-star football player as well as "a father, a brother, a boyfriend."

The intruders did not expect to find Taylor at home because the Redskins were playing a game that night, investigators said. Taylor was home with an injury.

Rivera allegedly kicked in the door of Taylor's bedroom finding him, his girlfriend and their baby daughter asleep.

A confrontation ensued and Taylor was shot in the groin, severing his femoral artery. He suffered massive blood loss and died at a hospital a day later.

"Sean Taylor, defending himself, his family, his home, was shot by this defendant," Araujo said pointing at Rivera.

He said Rivera shot his way out of the five-bedroom house through a glass door while Taylor lay on the floor near his bedroom in a pool of blood.

Rivera, now 23, was 17 when he was arrested a few days after the shooting. Defense attorneys said Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents ambushed him near his home and held him until he confessed to killing Taylor.

"Mr. Rivera was asked to get out of the car, his cell phone was taken from him and he was told he was going downtown for questioning," defense attorney Janese Caruthers said.

"And not to a local police station or a jail but to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is important because most people...did not know where that location was."

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

One defendant, Venjah Hunte, 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 with 10 interceptions in 2003. He was chosen by the Washington Redskins with the fifth overall pick in the 2004 National Football League draft and became a starter after three games.

His death shocked the football world. More than 3,000 people, including then-Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, attended a memorial held at a university football arena.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy imposed a gag order on prosecutors, defense lawyers, witnesses, experts and members of the victim's and defendant's families, who were in the courtroom on Monday.

(Editing by Jane Sutton and Leslie Gevirtz)

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