Mug shot of Tate
January 30, 1987 |
Broward County, Florida, United States
|30 years in state prison|
|Criminal status||Incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution Annex in Florida|
|Conviction(s)||Second degree murder, probation violation and armed robbery|
Lionel Alexander Tate (born January 30, 1987) is the youngest American citizen ever sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. In January 2001, when Tate was 13, he was convicted of first-degree murder for the 1999 battering death of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in Broward County, Florida.
Tate was left alone with Eunick, who was being babysat by Tate's mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate. While the children were downstairs playing, Tate's mother called to them to be quiet. Tate came up 45 minutes later to say that Eunick was not breathing. He stated that they were wrestling, he had her in a head lock and slammed the child's head into the table.
Tate was convicted of killing Eunick by stomping on her so forcefully that her liver was lacerated. Her other injuries included a fractured skull, fractured rib and swollen brain. These injuries were characterized by the prosecution as "similar to those she would have sustained by falling from a three-story building." In sentencing Tate to life imprisonment, Judge Joel T. Lazarus of Broward County Circuit Court said that "The acts of Lionel Tate were not the playful acts of a child [...] The acts of Lionel Tate were cold, callous and indescribably cruel."
The sentence and the controversy
The sentence was controversial because Tate was 12 years old at the time of the death, and his victim was 6. He was the youngest person in modern US history to be sentenced to life imprisonment, bringing broad criticism on the treatment of juvenile offenders in the justice system of the State of Florida.
Michael Eric Dyson commented in January 2004 that
In this country, we would rather put Lionel Tate in prison for a mistake he made at twelve or thirteen years old, dooming him to a life of perpetual suffering in an adult situation where we're not rehabilitating him, [but instead] inculcating in him the very values we want to avoid. We're teaching him, and others like him, how to become the very thing we say we want to reform. And at the same time, we allow other people in our society, who don't have darker skin, to plea bargain when they've stolen millions and millions of dollars out of the purses of ordinary people.
Tate's mother, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, and the defense had turned down a plea bargain arrangement which would have allowed Tate to serve a three-year term for second-degree murder in a youth facility followed by 10 years' probation but instead, his mother insisted on going to trial in hopes of an acquittal.
Felony murder controversy
Florida Statutes required the jury to convict Tate of first-degree murder even if the jury did not believe that he intended to kill or injure anyone—all that was required was that Tate knowingly abused another child who died as a result (wherein any intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical injury to a child is child abuse per Florida statutes).
Thus Tate was sentenced to life in prison without the prosecution having to prove that he intended to kill or injure, or realized that his acts are likely to kill or injure, or even that a typical child of his age would or should realize this.
Critics, such as the various groups listed in the Amicus Brief attached to Tate's appeal, assert that convicting preteen children of 1st-degree murder without having to prove these children intended any harm, not to mention serious injury or death, is unacceptable.
Original sentence overturned
After the conviction, the prosecution openly joined Tate's plea for leniency in sentencing, and even offered to help in his appeal. The trial judge criticized the prosecution for compromising the integrity of the adversarial system, and said that if the prosecution felt that life imprisonment was not warranted, they should not have charged him with murder in the first place.
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.
On September 3, 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.
On November 30, Tate was allowed to return to the home of his mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate. The family he had been staying with asked that he be removed, because frequent visits by state probation officers were too stressful.
Armed robbery arrest and subsequent plea bargain
On May 23, 2005, Tate was charged with armed burglary with battery, armed robbery and violation of probation, the Broward County Sheriff's Office said.
Tate threatened Domino's Pizza deliveryman Walter Ernest Gallardo with a handgun outside a friend's apartment after phoning in an order. Gallardo dropped the four pizzas and fled the scene. Tate then re-entered the apartment, assaulting the occupant who did not want Tate inside.
Gallardo called 9-1-1 upon reaching the Domino's store and returned to identify Tate, the sheriff's office said in a statement. No gun was recovered.
On March 1, 2006, Tate accepted a plea bargain and was to be sentenced to 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 that netted four pizzas worth $33.60, but he has refused to answer questions about where he got it and later disposed of the gun. He was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea for robbery, but was finally sentenced to 30 years in prison on May 18, 2006 for violating probation. On October 24, 2007, Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal upheld that sentence.
On February 19, 2008, Tate pleaded no contest to the pizza robbery and was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. The sentence will run concurrently with his 30-year sentence for violating his probation. 
- Inmate Population Information Detail
- Abby Goodnough, "Youngster Given Life Term For Killing Gets New Trial," The New York Times, December 11, 2003
- Dana Canedy, "Boy Convicted of Murder in Wrestling Death," The New York Times, January 5, 2001
- Dana Canedy, " Sentence of Life Without Parole For Boy, 13, in Murder of Girl, 6 ," The New York Times, March 10, 2001
- Wrestling Death: Judge Sentences Lionel Tate, 14, to Life in Prison
- STATE OF FLORIDA IN THE FOURTH DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL Case No. 4D01-1306
- Rule Should Not Apply To Children
- Court upholds sentence for Tate