- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004

MIAMI (AP) — A teenager whose life sentence for murdering a 6-year-old playmate set off worldwide criticism of Florida’s treatment of juveniles has reached a plea deal that could allow him to be released from prison in a month.

The mother of Lionel Tate approved the deal offered by prosecutors, said Tate’s attorney, Richard Rosenbaum. Under the agreement, Tate would plead guilty to second-degree murder and serve the remaining three months of a three-year prison sentence, followed by house arrest and probation.

The plea bargain, which needs to be ratified by a judge, is the same one Tate and his mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, declined before his trial for the death of Tiffany Eunick, a crime committed when he was 12. The Tates had insisted he was innocent.

“She wants Lionel home. The right decision was easy to make; it was just the details that needed to be worked out,” Mrs. Grossett-Tate’s attorney, Henry Hunter, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Tate’s attorneys had argued that he was imitating the pro wrestling moves he saw on television and did not mean to kill Tiffany, a 48-pound girl who was punched, kicked and stomped to death in 1999. Tate weighed 170 pounds at the time.

Experts testified at Tate’s trial that Tiffany died of a fractured skull and lacerated liver, injuries consistent with a prolonged beating.

Tate was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Tate’s mother and supporters brought the case to a U.N. human rights meeting in Geneva and Pope John Paul II in Rome, and it drew worldwide criticism.

A state appellate court threw out the conviction and sentence earlier this month, saying Tate’s mental competency should have been tested before trial.

Former prosecutor Ken Padowitz, who tried Tate and now represents Tiffany’s mother, Deweese Eunick-Paul, earlier this week said the woman always believed that a life sentence was too harsh. She wants “justice for her daughter” and is “giving her blessing” to the plea offer, Mr. Padowitz said.

Tate “is getting two bites of the apple,” Mr. Padowitz said, adding that Tiffany didn’t get that chance.

Mrs. Grossett-Tate was expected to visit her son this weekend in a maximum-security juvenile prison before he signed the deal, Mr. Rosenbaum said.

“Lionel Tate is ready to move on to the next stage of his life. He grieves every day over Tiffany’s death and will think of her and the terrible tragedy for the rest of his life,” Mr. Rosenbaum said.

Mr. Rosenbaum estimated his client could be released from prison by Jan. 29. He said he expects Tate to be released before the three months is up because the plea bargain would include credit for time served in the county jail before he was sentenced in 2001.

“I am thrilled that Lionel’s mother agreed that it’s better to be locked in one’s home rather than jail when you’re still only a child,” Mr. Rosenbaum said.

Although the state Attorney General’s Office said it supported efforts to resolve the case, it asked the 4th District Court of Appeal on Monday to reconsider its decision in the event that Tate rejected the plea offer.

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