Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Attorney: Boy recants statement that Lionel Tate robbed man

CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press

Thursday, June 23, 2005

FORT LAUDERDALE — A 13-year-old boy has recanted his statement to police that Lionel Tate, once the youngest American in modern history sentenced to life in prison, robbed a pizza delivery man at gunpoint, Tate's lawyer said Wednesday.
The boy, Taquincy Tomkins, now says that a 16-year-old identified only as "Willie" committed the crime and that he initially fingered Tate out of fear of retribution and because of intense police pressure.

Attorney James Lewis said Broward County sheriff's investigators "targeted Lionel Tate from the very beginning and tried to make the pieces fit. We think we have now cracked this case."

A judge has scheduled a hearing Thursday on whether Tate, 18, should be released on bond pending another hearing on Aug. 8 to determine if his probation should be revoked because of the pizza robbery. The criminal charges could mean Tate violated his probation — and result in a possible life prison sentence — stemming from his conviction in the 1999 killing of family friend Tiffany Eunick, 6.

Tate, who was 12 when the girl was killed, made headlines around the world when he was originally sentenced to life in prison for the crime, but his conviction and sentence were overturned on appeal. Tate had originally contended that he accidentally killed Tiffany while imitating TV wrestling moves.

Broward sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal said that new physical evidence linking Tate to the May 23 crime will be presented at the hearing Thursday and that the delivery man, Walter Gallardo, has not wavered in identifying Tate as the culprit.

"We are confident in our case and we believe that Lionel Tate was responsible for the armed robbery," Leljedal said.

Private investigator Joe Carrillo said he interviewed Tomkins and his mother, Kenya Miller, for several hours Sunday at their apartment in Pembroke Park where the crime occurred. In that interview, Tomkins said his sworn, videotaped statement to police blaming Tate for the robbery was incorrect.

"I said that it was Lionel that did it ... 'cause Willie had said that he was going to kill me,'" Tomkins said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by Lewis.

Tomkins said that investigators were "threatening me" and repeatedly asked "Was it Lionel? Was it Lionel?" and telling him that if he wasn't honest about what happened "I would be in jail and I can't see my family for the rest of my life."

Lewis would not further identify "Willie," other than to say he lived in the same apartment complex where the crime occurred and that he moved away three days later. Carrillo said he has spoken with Willie and if he could find him, so could detectives.

In both statements, Tomkins said that Tate used the telephone in his apartment to order four pies from Domino's Pizza. In his new statement, Tomkins said that it was Willie, and not Tate, who came back, barged through the apartment door and confronted the delivery man with a gun after the pizzas arrived.

The gun used in the robbery has not been found, but three handguns were missing from the home Tate shared with his mother, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper.

Lewis said that Willie is taller and lighter-skinned than Tate, wore his hair in braided corn rows and had on different clothes than Tate that day. Lewis also questioned whether Gallardo could make a positive identification since the robber was wearing a cloth to mask part of his face.

Lewis said that Tate "is hopeful he will be cleared. He's hoping that justice is going to work for him."

© 2007 Naples Daily News and NDN Productions. Published in Naples, Florida, USA by the E.W. Scripps Co.

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