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Wed, 12.10.2003

Life Sentence for Florida Black Boy is Changed

Lionel Tate

On this date in 2003, A Florida appeals court threw out a Black boy's conviction for beating a 6-year-old playmate to death.

The case spotlighted a Florida law that says child murderers must be locked away for the rest of their lives. In West Palm Beach, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Lionel Tate, now 16, saying his mental competency should have been evaluated before his trial. He was tried as an adult and is serving life without parole at a maximum-security juvenile prison.

Judge Barry J. Stone wrote, "Questions regarding Tate's competency were not lurking subtly in the background, but were readily apparent, as his immaturity and developmental delays were very much at the heart of the defense." Tate's lawyers argued that Tate, at the time 12, was imitating the pro-wrestling moves he saw on television and did not mean to kill Tiffany Eunick. The 48-pound girl was punched, kicked, and stomped to death by Tate, who weighed 170 pounds.

In January 2004, a state appeals court overturned his conviction on the basis that his mental competency had not been evaluated before trial. This opened the way for Tate to accept the same plea deal he originally turned down, and he was released on one year's house arrest and 10 years' probation. In September 2004, Tate was detained and held in prison for violating the terms of his house arrest when he was found out of his house and carrying a four-inch knife.  On October 29, the Associated Press reported that Tate was placed on zero-tolerance probation, for an additional five years. Later that year, Tate was allowed to return to the home of his mother. The family he had been staying with asked he be removed because frequent visits by state probation officers were too stressful.

In May 2005, Tate was charged with armed burglary with battery, armed robbery, and violation of probation, in Broward County, Florida. Tate greeted Domino's Pizza deliveryman with a handgun outside a friend's apartment after phoning in an order. Tate then re-entered the apartment, assaulting the occupant, who did not want Tate inside. No gun was recovered.

On March 1, 2006, Tate accepted a plea bargain and was to be sentenced to 10-30 years imprisonment in a sentencing hearing in April 2006. Tate admitted that he had violated probation by possessing a gun during the May 23 robbery. On October 24, 2007, Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld a sentence of 30 years for violating his probation by possessing a gun.


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