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