Defense challenges detective during Ex-NFL Player Murder Trial

Posted at 2:28 PM, June 2, 2023

By: Peter Burke

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Scripps News West Palm Beach) — Testimony continued Friday in the murder trial of former Florida State and NFL wide receiver Travis Rudolph.

Travis Rudolph appears in court

Former Florida State and NFL wide receiver Travis Rudolph sits in court on the second day of his murder trial, May 25, 2023, at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla. (Jeff Ringrose/WPTV)

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Detective Emily Vander-Laan, the lead detective in the April 2021 shooting death of Sebastien Jean-Jacques, returned to the witness stand Friday morning for cross-examination as Rudolph’s defense attorney attempted to smear her investigative efforts.

Rudolph, 27, is charged with one count of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder in connection with the fatal shooting outside the ex-college football star’s Lake Park home more than two years ago.

READ MORE: FL v. Travis Rudolph: Ex-NFL Player Murder Trial

During cross-examination, defense attorney Marc Shiner tried to discredit Vander-Laan’s assessment of what “probable cause” means.

Shiner said Rudolph’s mother told the detective that her son acted in self-defense when Jean-Jacques and three other men showed up at his house shortly after midnight on April 7, 2021, to confront Rudolph after a dispute with his girlfriend hours earlier.

“Making a simple statement such as that is not information which would lead me to have probable cause or cause at all to believe that there’s further evidence that needed to be searched,” Vander-Laan testified.

“So, you ignored what Ms. Rudolph told you, right?” Shiner asked her.

“Absolutely not,” Vader-Laan answered.

Shiner then asked Vander-Laan whether probable cause is based on whatever she believes to be important. Vander-Laan wrote the probable cause report that was the basis for Rudolph’s arrest.

“Well, the first thing you said sir was that it’s a report of something that somebody probably did,” she said. “I disagree with that. It’s based on evidence.”

Shiner then asked her whether she believed probable cause was “completely different than reasonable doubt.”

“Absolutely,” she said.

Vander-Laan refuted Shiner’s insinuation that she was quick to arrest Rudolph.

“The moment he came out of the house, he was arrested, right?” Shiner asked.

“No sir,” she answered.

“Put in handcuffs?” he asked.

“He was detained,” she said.

“Oh, detained,” Shiner said. “Was he allowed to leave?”

WATCH: Ex-NFL Player Murder Trial: Ex-Girlfriend Testifies

“Absolutely not, because he was detained, sir,” Vander-Laan said.

“Put in a police car?” Shiner asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“Hands behind his back with handcuffs?” Shiner continued.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“And you don’t call that an arrest?” Shiner said.

Rudolph has been out of jail on house arrest since last year after he unsuccessfully sought a “stand your ground” defense.

Jean-Jacques fled after the shooting and was later found fatally wounded in the front passenger seat of a car in West Palm Beach. The driver and back seat passenger were also in the car, but they were uninjured.

Another victim was found with gunshot wounds in Lake Park.

A star wide receiver at Cardinal Newman High School, Rudolph went on to play at Florida State. He hauled in 153 catches for 2,311 yards and 18 touchdowns in three seasons with the Seminoles from 2014-16.

The West Palm Beach native left school early to declare for the NFL Draft. Although he wasn’t drafted, Rudolph signed with the New York Giants in 2017 and spent two seasons with the team.

Rudolph was signed to the Miami Dolphins practice squad in 2018 but tore an ACL on his first day of workouts and never played in the NFL again.

He signed with the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2020, but the team released him after his arrest.

This story was originally published on June 2, 2023, by WPTV in West Palm Beach, an E.W. Scripps Company.