The father of a man on trial in the slaying of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor testified Monday that it took him hours to find his son the day he was arrested, and that his son appeared shaken and frightened when they finally were allowed to meet.
Investigators took Eric Rivera Jr. into custody in Fort Myers on Nov. 30, 2007, a few days after Taylor was fatally shot in his Miami-area home during what investigators say was a botched burglary. His father, Eric Rivera Sr., said he went to two local police departments and called his son's cell phone several times, but could not locate him.
"We were worried about our son. We were hoping to hear about his whereabouts because he never ended up in school," the father said. "He was a kid at that point. Any parent is worried about their son."
It wasn't until late afternoon or evening, the elder Rivera said, that he was contacted by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents and brought by them to the FDLE office to meet his son. By that time Rivera Jr., then 17, had been in custody for several hours and had given a statement admitting to his role in the crime, police have testified.
"He had a worried, worried look. Like a scared look. Very tired look," Rivera Sr. said of his son.
The cornerstone of the younger Rivera's defense is that his detailed, videotaped confession was improperly coerced by overzealous investigators seeking to close a high-profile murder case. The father's testimony that Rivera was questioned for hours without any contact with his family is part of that legal strategy.
Prosecutors rested their main case earlier Monday against Rivera, now 23, who faces life in prison if convicted. Four other people were charged in the case, one of whom has pleaded guilty. Trial for the others will be held later. Closing arguments in the Rivera case could come as early as Wednesday.
In cross-examination, Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin poked several holes in Rivera Sr.'s testimony, noting that in an earlier sworn statement the father had said he couldn't remember if he called his son's cell phone.
"Your memory wasn't that great back then, was it?" Rubin asked.
"Yes it was. I probably heard the question wrong at that point," Rivera Sr. replied.
Also Monday, two of Rivera's cousins testified about how they were stopped by police on the way to school the day he was arrested. Jeremy Gabriel said was taken to the same FDLE building and denied repeated requests to call his mother.
"I was scared. I didn't know what was going on," Gabriel testified.
Earlier, Dr. Satish Chundru, who performed the autopsy on Taylor after he died, said Taylor died of massive blood loss after the 9mm bullet pierced his upper right thigh, severely damaging the main femoral artery, and then lodged in his left thigh.
Hospital records showed that Taylor lost so much blood so quickly that he was essentially dead on arrival, even though doctors managed to restart his heart and worked to repair the damaged artery.
"After a few minutes of a lot of blood loss, your brain no longer gets oxygen and that's when your body starts shutting down," said Chundru, who is now a deputy medical examiner in Travis County, Texas.
Authorities say Rivera and four other men from the Fort Myers area traveled across the state hoping to burglarize Taylor's Miami-area home, where they thought he kept large amounts of cash. Rivera fired the fatal shot, police said, after Taylor confronted them outside his bedroom with a machete.
Rivera told police in a recorded confession that the group thought Taylor would not be home because the Redskins had a game that weekend at Tampa Bay. But the Pro Bowl safety was home nursing a knee injury, along with his then-girlfriend Jackie Garcia and their 18-month-old daughter. Neither of them was injured.
Taylor, 24, was one of the top defensive players in the NFL when he was slain. Previously he was a star player at the University of Miami.