- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

MIAMI (AP) — A teenager whose life sentence for fatally beating a 6-year-old playmate was thrown out signed documents yesterday pleading guilty to second-degree murder in a deal that could get him out of prison as early as this month.

Lionel Tate, 16, signed the papers at a maximum-security juvenile prison in Okeechobee, where he is being held for the 1999 death of Tiffany Eunick. Tate had been 12 when he fatally punched, kicked and stomped the 48-pound girl.

His first-degree murder conviction and life sentence were overturned last month, and prosecutors offered the same plea deal that Tate and his mother declined before the trial. In the deal, Tate would be sentenced to three years in prison — most of which he already has served — plus one year of house arrest and 10 years’ probation.

“Just knowing it’s all been signed, I’m very happy for him that he and his mom are on the same wavelength and moving forward,” said Richard Rosenbaum, Tate’s attorney.

A judge still has to ratify the plea deal, a process that could take a few weeks, Mr. Rosenbaum said. No hearings have been scheduled, but Mr. Rosenbaum said he is hopeful that the boy could be released by the end of the month.

The teen’s mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, said that the decision to sign was a difficult one and that she would have preferred her son to plead guilty to manslaughter instead of murder, because she and her son contend Tiffany’s death was accidental.

“He did not receive a fair trial the first time,” Mrs. Grossett-Tate said. “For us to go back to trial again, I know he would not get a fair trial.”

Still, she said after the signing, “It’s about time he comes home.”

A message left for Ken Padowitz, who prosecuted Tate and now represents Tiffany’s mother in private practice, was not returned yesterday. He has said that the girl’s mother was pleased that Tate was accepting responsibility for the death for the first time.

Special prosecutors appointed nearly two years ago cleared Mrs. Grossett-Tate of any wrongdoing in Tiffany’s death. Mrs. Grossett-Tate had been baby-sitting the girl in her Pembroke Park home at the time of her death. Mrs. Grossett-Tate said she had been upstairs napping when the girl was killed.

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