Inside The Tragic Death Of Sean Taylor, The Rising NFL Star Killed At The Age Of Just 24

Published April 27, 2023

On November 27, 2007, Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor was shot inside his Florida home while trying to protect his family during a botched burglary.

Sean Taylor Death

John McDonnell/Getty ImagesSean Taylor was killed in his home, where he was resting while recovering from a knee injury.

On Nov. 26, 2007, a group of intruders broke into the Florida home of Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor while he, his girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, and their 18-month-old infant slept. The noise startled them awake; Taylor told Garcia to hide and grabbed a machete to ward off the intruders. Unfortunately, one of them shot him and fled.

Taylor was rushed to the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. The bullet had severed a femoral artery, and he was losing blood fast. After hours of surgery while Taylor was comatose, he died before he could speak to detectives and help catch his killer.

Police soon arrested the four men involved in the home invasion, but it would take another seven years before his killer, Eric Rivera, received his sentence.

Sean Taylor’s Early Life And Career

Sean Michael Maurice Taylor was born on April 1, 1983, in Florida City, Florida, to Pedro Taylor and Donna Junor. As a kid, he gravitated towards football, eventually playing for Miami Killian Senior High School before transferring to Gulliver Prep School and playing for the Gulliver Prep Raiders. He also ran track and played for the school’s basketball team.

Sean Taylor As A Kid

TwitterSean Taylor as a child.

By the time he left prep school, numerous colleges had their eyes on him. He was a star athlete and honors student who, according to Pro Football History, was named the seventh-ranked prospect in Dade County.

Taylor ended up choosing the University of Miami, becoming one of a small group of freshmen who actually got to play for the Hurricanes. His sophomore year saw him spending more time on the field, and soon enough he was a household name among college football fans. His junior year was even better — so much so that he didn’t even bother moving on to his senior year and entered the NFL draft instead.

Sean Taylor Interception

John McDonnell/Getty ImagesOct. 14, 2007: Sean Taylor catches an interception one month before he was shot.

Evidently, that bet paid off. In 2004, the Washington Redskins drafted Taylor fifth in the draft overall, offering him a six-year contract. And despite a few minor incidents early on — being summoned by police for an investigation into shots fired at a stolen vehicle, and a uniform violation — Taylor’s career was off to a strong start.

Unfortunately, his career didn’t last long.

The Botched Home Burglary That Killed Sean Taylor

As Taylor was entering his fourth season with the Redskins, he sustained a knee injury that left him temporarily unable to play. Of course, he still traveled with the team, so he was away from Florida on Nov. 18, 2007 — the first time his home was broken into.

The Miami Herald reported that in this first instance, the intruder entered the home, rifled through some drawers and a safe, and left a kitchen knife on the bed. Other than that, the incident passed without much fanfare or notice.

A week later, however, the team’s schedule brought them to Tampa, and Taylor, still unable to play, decided to spend some time at his Palmetto Bay home with his girlfriend and child while waiting to get a second opinion on his knee. Unfortunately, the group of burglars who decided to hit Taylor’s home didn’t get the memo that he was going to be at his home that night.

Crime Scene At Sean Taylors Home

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesThe crime scene at Sean Taylor’s Palmetto Bay, Florida residence the day after he was shot.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 26, Taylor and Garcia heard loud noises in their home that jolted them awake. As Taylor’s attorney Richard Sharpstein later explained, Taylor told her to get under the covers while he shut their bedroom door and grabbed the machete he kept under the bed.

Sharpstein said that Garcia had told him she couldn’t hear any voices, but “she heard a lot of noise that she related to more than one person. There seemed to be a lot of commotion.”

Before they could even figure out what was going on, their bedroom door opened, shots were fired, and Taylor fell backwards bleeding from his groin. The gunman never entered the room, but turned and fled after they fired off two shots, one hitting Taylor, the other hitting the wall.

“Nothing was stolen,” Sharpstein said. “My instincts tell me this was not a murder or a hit. It was certainly not professionally done in that two random shots were fired.”

Pedro Taylor

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesSean Taylor’s father, Pedro Taylor, sitting in a car outside his son’s home as the police investigation was underway.

Sean Taylor’s Tragic Death

By the time Taylor arrived at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, he had lost a great deal of blood. He clung to life for 24 hours, but in the end succumbed to his wound and died at 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 27, 2007.

“It is with deep regret that a young man had to come to his end so soon. Many of his fans loved him because of the way he played football. Many of his opponents feared him, the way he approached the game. Others misunderstood him, many appreciated him, and his family loved him. I can only hope and pray that Sean’s life was not in vain, that it might touch others in a special way.”

Pedro Taylor

Three days later, police arrested four men for the home invasion and shooting: Eric Rivera, Charles Wardlow, Venjah Hunte, and Jason Mitchell. Rivera, 17 at the time, was the one accused of shooting Sean Taylor. And after several delays, he finally stood trial in 2013.

Eric Rivera’s Trial For The Killing Of Sean Taylor

By the time Eric Rivera went to trial, he was 23 years old — but because he was 17 on the night of the shooting, it complicated his case. Initially, ESPN reported, Rivera was charged with first-degree murder, but because he had been a minor when the incident took place, he was ineligible for the death penalty.

Instead, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and armed burglary. The evidence against him had been good — police even had a videotaped confession in which Rivera admitted to shooting Taylor after the football player “confronted” them at his bedroom door.

Eric Rivera

TwitterEric Rivera, the man who killed Sean Taylor, in court.

Rivera also said that he and his fellow burglars didn’t know Taylor would be home at the time with a knee injury. Rather, they expected him to be in Tampa, playing with his team.

However, Rivera also later recanted his confession, saying it had been coerced out of him and that another member of the group had been the one to shoot Taylor. The gun was never found. Police said it was wrapped in a sock and discarded in the Florida Everglades.

Several witnesses at the trial also offered insight as to the motive. Taylor reportedly kept large sums of cash at his home. In fact, a few weeks earlier Jason Mitchell had gone to a birthday party for Taylor’s half-sister and noticed that Taylor gifted her a $10,000 purse.

If the young men were going to rob any house, Taylor’s seemed like the perfect target. Rivera said the group felt they could get anywhere between $100,000 and $200,000 in cash by burglarizing the home.

But murder hadn’t been part of the plan.

The Aftermath Of Sean Taylor’s Death

In a brief statement to Taylor’s family, Rivera apologized for the killing, saying that Taylor was “a good man.”

Sean Taylor Memorial

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesRedskins fans standing beside a makeshift memorial for Sean Taylor.

“I live with his death every day. I’m going to have to deal with the consequences,” Rivera said. Members of his family, meanwhile, pleaded for a lenient sentence for him. In the end, he got 57 years in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin, on the other hand, didn’t share the family’s sentiment, calling Rivera a “sophisticated, manipulative criminal. There’s no good reason to believe he will change.”

Sean Taylor “lost his life defending and protecting his family,” Rubin said. “They kicked the door in and they shot him and killed him, for no good reason.”

After learning the story of Sean Taylor’s tragic death, learn about the death of Odin Lloyd, the man killed by football player Aaron Hernandez. Then, read about Randall Woodfield, the football player who became a serial killer.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
Cite This Article
Harvey, Austin. "Inside The Tragic Death Of Sean Taylor, The Rising NFL Star Killed At The Age Of Just 24.", April 27, 2023, Accessed April 19, 2024.