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Jury selection finally begins in Sean Taylor murder trial

By Curt Anderson | 10/18/2013, 11:48 a.m. | Updated on 10/18/2013, 11:48 a.m.

Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, now a NASCAR racing team owner, said Taylor began to mature and take a leadership role on the team after the birth of his daughter.

"It wound up being a true tragedy and it had a huge effect on all of us," Gibbs said of Taylor's killing. "He was one of those guys that with the way he played and his persona the way he was, he was a natural leader. You could see guys look to him from a leadership standpoint."

The fatal attempted burglary was not the first time there was a break-in at Taylor's home.

Police say someone pried open a window a few days earlier, on Nov. 17, and rifled through a desk and other belongings. No one was home that time, and it's not clear exactly what, if anything, was taken.

Then came the weekend after Thanksgiving with the Redskins playing the Buccaneers that Sunday. Taylor was given permission to stay home with a knee injury, along with his girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, and their 18-month-old daughter, also named Jackie.

Police say two of the men charged had connections to Taylor: Jason Scott Mitchell had cut Taylor's lawn and an older cousin of suspect Charles Wardlow had dated Taylor's sister. Family members also said Mitchell had recently been at a birthday party at Taylor's house, where Taylor was known to keep large amounts of cash.

Miami-Dade County's former police director, Robert Parker, said the defendants were surprised to find Taylor home early that Monday morning.

"They were certainly not looking to go there and kill anyone," Parker said. "They were expecting a residence that was not occupied."

Authorities say they have obtained confessions from at least some of the suspects, all from the Fort Myers area, but pretrial hearings on whether those statements will be allowed in Rivera's trial were closed by Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy. The judge also imposed a gag order on prosecutors and defense attorneys in hopes of limiting pretrial news media coverage that could make jury selection difficult.

The murder weapon has never been found. Prosecutors say it was thrown into the Everglades after the slaying while the group drove home across Alligator Alley.

There have already been at least seven previous trial dates set for Rivera. Cooley, for one, said it's time for justice to be done.

"Breaking into someone's home, into their personal safety blanket and shooting them in that environment is the most heinous, unthinkable crime that could have happened to a guy like Sean. It's despicable," Cooley said.