HE HAD been dead
for less than nine hours, the victim of an apparent break-in gone awry at his
$900,000 home in a Miami suburb, when The Washington Post put up a column on
its website under the headline TAYLOR'S DEATH IS TRAGIC BUT NOT SURPRISING.
Portions of the Nov. 27 column were as jarring as the headline, particularly
the passage, "Could anyone honestly say they never saw this coming? You'd
have to be blind not to consider Taylor's checkered past."
So much for
resting in peace.
SEAN TAYLOR, who
was the fifth pick in the 2004 NFL draft and arguably the Redskins' best player
this season, did have various run-ins with the law and the league during his
first two pro seasons. But, even before Taylor's death, teammates, family and
friends regarded those incidents as the actions of a young adult coping with
the demands that come with sudden fame, fortune and celebrity. They were aware
that over the last year and a half Taylor had matured and taken steps to change
his ways, prompted by the birth of his daughter, Jackie, in May 2006.
That Taylor was
somehow culpable in his own death, as the Post column suggested, struck a nerve
with readers. At best the column was insensitive and premature, some wrote. At
worst it was incendiary and racist, considering police had found no evidence of
a link between Taylor's past and his death. Yet the Post was far from being the
only media outlet to raise the possibility that the death of the 24-year-old
Pro Bowl safety was directly tied to his past. Numerous others, including
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, had speculated that once the dots were connected, the story
of a violent young man who had failed to escape his past would emerge.
however, three days after Taylor died from a single bullet wound to the leg,
Miami-Dade County police director Robert Parker provided a different account
when he announced the arrest of four males—three of them teenagers—from the
Fort Myers, Fla., area and charged them with unpremeditated murder, home
invasion with a deadly weapon and armed burglary.
expecting a residence that was not occupied," Parker said of the
assailants, "so murder or shooting someone was not their initial
Two of the four
men arrested—Jason Mitchell, 19, and Charles Wardlow, 18—appear to have been
familiar with Taylor's house and loosely acquainted with the family. Mitchell,
according to a report in The Miami Herald, had attended a birthday party for
Taylor's half sister, Sasha Johnson, at Taylor's Palmetto Bay home, where
Mitchell later mowed the lawn. Wardlow is the cousin of Johnson's boyfriend.
Mitchell, Wardlow and the two other men charged, Venjah Hunte, 20, and Eric
Rivera, 17, have prior arrest records.
police, the assailants broke into the home around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 26.On many
nights during the football season the house would have been unoccupied. But
Taylor, recovering from a knee injury, had not accompanied the Redskins to
Tampa Bay for their game against the Buccaneers the previous afternoon.
Instead, he had spent the day in Palmetto Bay with his fiancée, Jackie Garcia,
and their daughter. All three were sleeping in the same bedroom when they were
awakened by a noise inside the house. Taylor reportedly grabbed a machete from
under his bed, and started for the bedroom door. He never made it out of the
room. One of the robbers shot Taylor in the groin—the bullet ripped open his
femoral artery, which resulted in so much blood loss that Taylor died the
following morning despite seven hours of surgery.
Sean's past have to do with what happened here?'' Redskins tackle Chris Samuels
told SI's Peter King two days later. "Sean was in bed by nine o'clock that
night with his family, knowing he had to get up the next day to get treatment
on his knee. I am telling you Sean was not a thug. He was a victim in his own
bedroom. That's what we need to focus on. How in this great country can a man
be asleep in his own bedroom, get shot, and in the media it's like he did
something wrong to deserve this?''
IN THE age of the
24-hour news cycle, there is pressure to advance a story even when there are no
new facts to report. Consequently, speculation too often replaces actual
reporting, and truth occasionally takes a backseat to supposition.