- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A teenager whose life sentence for murdering a 6-year-old playmate was recently overturned “is inclined” to accept a plea deal that would release him from a juvenile detention center early next year, a lawyer advising the teen and his mother said yesterday.

“The plea is not being rejected,” attorney Henry Hunter said. He said attorneys were still working out two procedural matters and declined to speculate when Lionel Tate, 16, might accept the offer.

The teenager was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole, but a state appellate court threw out the conviction and sentence earlier this month, saying the boy’s mental competency should have been tested before trial.

The plea bargain offered Friday would let the teenager plead guilty to second-degree murder and receive a sentence of three years in prison, of which he already has served 33 months. He would serve three more months in prison, followed by a year of house arrest and 10 years of probation.

The Tate boy, who was 12 at the time of the girl’s death in July 1999, remains in a juvenile detention center.

Mr. Hunter said the boy’s mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, would prefer that her son be allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter instead of second-degree murder. Still, he said, both the boy and his mother were happy about the offer.

“She has some apprehension, but she misses her baby,” Mr. Hunter said. “We’re excited for Lionel, one way or another.”

The state Attorney General’s Office says it supports the efforts to resolve the case but would ask the appellate court to reconsider its ruling if the teenager rejects the plea offer. Yesterday was the deadline to appeal.

Earlier yesterday, Richard Rosenbaum, the boy’s appellate attorney, said: “You would have to be a fool” to pass up the plea bargain.

Mr. Rosenbaum said on NBC’s “Today” show that the Tate boy “is willing to take responsibility for being involved in this incident.” He declined to say whether his client would accept the plea offer.

Mr. Rosenbaum insisted yesterday that Tiffany Eunick’s death was an accident, although he has previously dismissed claims at the boy’s trial that he accidentally killed the girl while imitating professional wrestling moves he had seen on television.

In March, the teenager changed his story and said he accidentally killed Tiffany when he jumped on top of her as she lay at the bottom of a staircase while his mother was baby-sitting the girl at her apartment. The boy weighed 160 pounds; Tiffany weighed about 50.

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