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Lionel Alexander TATE

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (12) - The youngest American citizen ever sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 28, 1999
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: January 30, 1987
Victim profile: Tiffany Eunick, 6
Method of murder: By stomping on her so forcefully that her liver lacerated
Location: Broward County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole on March 9, 2001. Overturned in January 2004. Released. Sentenced to 30 years in prison on May 18, 2006 on the gun possession charge. On February 19, 2008, Tate pled no contest to the pizza robbery and was sentenced to 10 years.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Lionel Alexander Tate (b. January 30, 1987) is the youngest American citizen ever sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. In 2001, when Tate was 14, he was convicted of first-degree murder for the 1998 battering death of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in Broward County, Florida.

The crime and conviction

Tate was left alone with Eunick, who was being babysat by Tate's mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, while she took a nap upstairs. Tate's defense argued that the then 12-year-old, 166 pound boy was playing with the 6-year-old, 46 pound girl, and had accidentally killed her while showing her professional wrestling moves he said he had seen on television.

Tate was convicted of killing Eunick by stomping on her so forcefully that her liver 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 and his victim was 6. He had been the youngest child in modern history to be sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States, bringing broad criticism on the treatment of juvenile offenders in the justice system of the State of Florida.

Tate's mother, a Florida State highway patrol trooper, had turned down a plea bargain arrangement which would have allowed Tate to serve a three-year term for second-degree murder and insisted on going to trial on hopes of an acquittal.

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 were not warranted, they should not have overcharged 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.

Probation violation

On September 3, 2004, Tate was arrested for violating the terms of his plea bargain 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 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, Florida, Sheriff's Office said.

Tate greeted 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 will 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 that netted four pizzas worth $33.60. Tate has refused to answer questions about where he got and later disposed of the gun. He was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea for robbery but sentenced to 30 years in prison on May 18, 2006 on the gun possession charge.

That sentence was upheld October 24, 2007. On February 19, 2008, Tate plead no contest to the pizza robbery and was sentenced to 10 years. The sentence will run concurrently with his 30 year sentence for violating his probation.

 
 


 

The bullying boy and his mindless mommy

By Shelley McKinney - Enter Stage Right

March 19, 2001

On July 28, 1999, in Miramar, Florida, 12-year-old Lionel Tate decided to practice some of the wrestling moves he had seen his strutting idol, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, perform on his favorite television show, WWF Smackdown. Lionel, who weighed 170 pounds at the time, demonstrated some pro-wrestling techniques with 6-year-old, forty-eight pound Tiffany Eunick, with the result that she was punched, thrown, kicked and stomped to death.

On the coroner's report, the cause of Tiffany's death is listed as "blunt force trauma." Lionel Tate, who has a reputation as a schoolyard bully, injured her little body to the extent that she bled from her mouth, nose, eyes and ears. Her skull was fractured in several places and her ribs were cracked. Part of her brain was flattened inside her head. The beating Lionel Tate gave her was so severe, part of Tiffany's liver broke loose and was floating free inside her body.

The thought of being one of Tiffany's parents and having to make that identification at the morgue -- looking down at the brokenness, the dried blood, the horrible bruising on her arms, face and torso and knowing that the lifeless shell lying there on the gurney was your daughter, your baby -- is one that could make any parent's blood turn to ice. Every natural urge that a parent has to shelter, protect and defend would suffer from an impotent, inconsolable grief.

Lionel's mother, Florida state trooper Kathleen Grossett-Tate, claims that her son was just "playing" with Tiffany and that her death was the result of a "tragic accident." On January 26, Ms. Grossett-Tate added that she couldn't believe it when the Broward County Circuit Court jury in her son's trial in for Tiffany's murder returned a guilty verdict after three hours of deliberation. She was certain they'd acquit him.

After the guilty verdict was handed down from the circuit court, Lionel Tate's case went before Judge Joel T. Lazarus for sentencing.

Lionel Tate was tried as an adult under a Florida law which does not require him to have had the actual intent to kill to be convicted of first-degree murder. "He didn't have to say 'I'm going to kill Tiffany Eunick,'" said prosecutor Ken Padowitz. "All that is required is that he intended to act, not that he intended the result."

Defense attorney Jim Lewis never argued that Lionel Tate did not kill Tiffany Eunick; Lewis's defense was based upon the boy's love of professional wrestling, which depicts (scripted and choreographed) acts of extreme violence. In essence, Lewis stated that it was not Lionel's fault that Tiffany was killed -- it was the fault of the World Wrestling Federation. Lionel Tate should be pitied and not punished.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Lionel Tate was responsible -- completely responsible -- for his actions and also that he knew what he had done was wrong. For instance, when the police came arrest Tate, he protested that all he'd done was give Tiffany a bear hug. Later, he confessed that he had attempted to throw her onto a couch, but missed and instead threw her into the banister of the stairs. As he was pressured to tell his whole story, more horrors were revealed, which could lead one to think that this "schoolyard bully" knew his level of violence had been way over the top all along.

Judge Joel Lazarus evidently was thinking of this when he refused to reduce Lionel Tate's first-degree murder conviction to a lesser charge. He was also undoubtedly thinking of the media blitz arranged by Lionel's lawyer and mother, who appeared in a non-stop whirl of morning news-talk shows and press conferences, all designed to organize an outpouring of sympathy for Lionel.

Attorney Jim Lewis and Kathleen Gossett-Tate were so certain that their message of "oops -- it was all a sad accident" would find favor with the public and Judge Lazarus that they summarily rejected a plea bargain agreement offered by prosecutor Ken Padowitz that would have had Lionel serving only three years of jail time plus ten years of probation. Lewis and Gossett-Tate actually believed that Lionel, with his history of bullying other children, would be completely exonerated of any blame surrounding the circumstances of Tiffany Eunick's death. His intent when he stomped on her ribcage, you understand, was to "play" with her.

It was much to their surprise when Judge Lazarus treated them -- the mommy, the lawyer and the bully -- to a forty-five minute tongue lashing in which he excoriated them for their separate roles in completely trivializing a human life. Tiffany who? Wasn't she that annoying little screamer with the blood leaking out of her eyes?

The judge then handed down Florida's mandatory sentence for those who are convicted of first-degree murder: life in prison without parole.

"The evidence of Lionel Tate's guilt is clear, obvious and indisputable," said the judge from his Fort Lauderdale courtroom. "That evidence supports the jury's verdict."

For the record, I dislike the idea of a fourteen-year old being given a sentence of that breadth, but on the other hand, I think that the plea bargain of three years' jail time is disgraceful: Tiffany is completely gone from this world, forever. Where is the justice in allowing Lionel Tate to continue his life after only three years of punishment? There must be some sort of middle ground between these two extremes.

I also think it is completely outrageous that his lawyer and his doting mama insisted that Lionel shouldn't have to spend any time in jail.

"How do you tell a child 'you're going to prison for the rest of your life for playing'?" Gossett-Tate asked. "I want my son out. He should not be there!"

I have the strong feeling that I can point to the exact reason why Lionel Tate earned his reputation as a playground bully. Mothers like this one are as much as a menace to society as the evil spawn they raise to prey on the rest of us.

In her arrogant selfishness, Kathleen Gossett-Tate seems to be oblivious to the fact that Tiffany Eunick's parents undoubtedly wish that she weren't in her grave. There doesn't seem to be anything in Gossett-Tate's code of ethics that would deter the strong from hurting the weak -- and she's a state police officer! I find it frightening that a person in the position of protecting the public could have raised such a child.

Jim Lewis is appealing for clemency to Florida governor Jeb Bush to see if Lionel Tate's sentence can be commuted to a lesser prison term. Pending that hearing, Governor Bush has ordered that Lionel be housed in a juvenile lock-up. Some might even think that this could be considered protective custody to keep him away from his own mother, the person who has both loved him and failed him the most.

 
 


 

Free Lionel Tate

New evidence in the notorious bad boy's latest crime

By Francisco Alvarado - MiamiNewTimes.com

August 02, 2007

For the past two years, two months, and ten days, out on the western fringes of Miami-Dade County, Lionel Tate has been sitting inside a prison cell at the Everglades Correctional Institute for a crime he almost certainly didn't commit.

In fact two South Florida private investigators allege DNA evidence as well as two new victim statements prove Tate likely didn't rob, at gunpoint, Domino's Pizza delivery man Walter Gallardo inside a Pembroke Park apartment May 23, 2005.

"The Broward State Attorney's Office knows they got the wrong guy, but they are not going to do anything about it," hisses 51-year-old Miami private eye Joe Carrillo. "And it stinks."

Carrillo is a tall, boisterous man whose sleuthing skills helped Miami Police Department nab the Shenandoah Rapist, Reynaldo Rapalo, in 2004. He and former FBI agent Bob Whiting have been working without pay on Tate's case for almost two years.

You might remember Tate. He was 12 years old back in 1999 when he was accused of battering to death six-year-old playmate Tiffany Eunick. Two years later, Tate was tried and convicted of Eunick's first-degree murder. His trial lawyers unsuccessfully argued that Tate had been imitating wrestling moves and that the girl's death was an accident.

Two years after Eunick's death, Tate became the youngest person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence without parole. But an appeals court reversed the conviction in 2003, and he was freed a year later. He avoided a retrial by pleading guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for one year's house arrest followed by ten years' probation.

Then in September 2004 police found him a few blocks from his house at 2:00 a.m. carrying an eight-inch knife. Broward Circuit Court Judge Joel Lazarus tacked another five years onto Tate's probation.

Nine months later, Tate was busted for the pizza stickup. And because of his past problems, this one really could put him away for life.

Here's what happened, according to Tate's arrest report. Gallardo was delivering the pies about 4:20 p.m. to unit 208 at 3871 SW 52nd Ave. in Pembroke Park (just north of the Miami-Dade County line in Broward). Initially there was no answer at the second-floor apartment, so Gallardo turned around to leave.

Then the delivery man heard someone yell "Hey!" while he was descending the stairs. He walked back up, saw unit 208's door slightly ajar, and walked in. Behind the door, Gallardo told BSO detectives, was a black man with a black bandanna covering his mouth and pointing an "old handgun" at him. Later that evening, Gallardo identified Tate.

Since then Tate has been incarcerated without bond and has cycled through three defense lawyers, including the late Ellis Rubin.

At first it seemed the evidence against Tate who's now 20 years old was strong. He admitted calling Domino's to order the pizzas. And when police searched the apartment of a onetime neighborhood chum, Willie Corouthers, they found a pair of maroon shorts Gallardo claimed the assailant wore; they contained traces of Tate's DNA. He even accepted a plea deal but then changed his mind.

Indeed the two private eyes have uncovered evidence that should lead cops to further probe the role of Corouthers, who was 16 years old at the time of the pizza caper and lived on the first floor of the building where the crime took place. Despite several calls to a cell phone listed in public records and three visits to his last known address in Miramar, New Times could not reach Corouthers for comment.

An aspiring rapper who goes by the handle "Little Will," Corouthers met Tate through mutual friends sometime in late 2004, according to a sworn statement Corouthers gave prosecutors in September 2005. "Some days I would see him walking to school," Corouthers said. "But I never said anything to him until he started coming around where I live."

On the day of the robbery, Tate sent Corouthers a text message: "U still want to bust that lick after school?" In the statement, Corouthers explained that "bust that lick" is slang for robbery and that Tate was referring to stealing from an unidentified Hollywood teenager who carried around a lot of money. But it never happened. "That was all talk," Corouthers added.

Corouthers claimed he was on the sidewalk outside the apartment building when Gallardo drove up. "Lionel was at the top of the staircase," Corouthers told the attorneys. "He said, 'I ordered the pizza, sir.' Lionel goes into the house, and the pizza man is like right behind him." A couple of seconds later, Corouthers said, he heard Gallardo scream and saw Lionel waving a gun at the man. "The man falls, boom, and then either he fell down the stairs or he ran," Corouthers said. "He's screaming help, help, help."

That doesn't jibe with Gallardo's account. The pizza man said he didn't see anyone before knocking on unit 208. And Corouthers, whose fingerprints were found on one of the pizza boxes, didn't mention the black bandanna, which should have been obvious.

Enter Tuquincy Thompkins, who was 12 years old and lived in the apartment where the robbery took place. Initially Thompkins told BSO detectives he saw Tate rob Gallardo. Two months after the robbery, though, Thompkins recanted his story to private eye Carrillo.

During an October 11, 2005 sworn deposition, Thompkins claimed Tate wasn't there. When the pizza man entered the apartment, Corouthers was standing by the front door with a gun tucked under his waistband. "I saw him take it out," Thompkins stated. "And that's when I ran in [my mom's] room, and that's when I heard a scream." Asked by Tate's defense attorney why he didn't identify Corouthers from the beginning, Thompkins replied, "Because I was scared, and he said he was going to kill me."

Then there's the story told by Zawalski Edwards, a convicted felon who called Tate's defense team from jail. The two private eyes say Edwards was in Corouthers's apartment the night of the robbery; he claimed he saw Corouthers wearing the maroon shorts and then putting them "on top of the cabinet ... where the cops found it," Carrillo says.

Edwards has nothing to gain by implicating Corouthers, Whiting adds. "We are not law enforcement, so it's not like we can offer him anything," he says. "There was absolutely no benefit for him."

And this past February 9, a forensic case report by Virginia-based Bode Technology Group turned up significant traces of Corouthers's DNA on the black bandanna police say was used in the armed robbery.

Based on the new DNA evidence, Judge Lazarus agreed to delay the trial, which had been set for April. The next hearing will be held in September.

It's time for prosecutors to drop the case against Tate, the private eyes say. They have told Assistant Broward State Attorney Charles Morton about the exculpatory evidence, but "he doesn't want to hear anything that would exonerate Lionel."

Morton didn't return calls seeking comment. But Broward Sheriff's spokesman Elliot Cohen dismisses the private eyes' charges. "I'd expect nothing less from two people who are working for the person they are trying to exonerate," Cohen says. "The court record is extensive and pretty clear."

 

 

 
 
 
 
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