Once believed to be the youngest person sentenced to life in prison in the United States, Lionel Tate got 10 years after pleading no contest Tuesday to armed robbery.
BY HANNAH SAMPSON
Lionel Tate, whose nine-year history in the Broward courts system has drawn worldwide attention, resolved his latest legal case on Tuesday when he pleaded no contest to armed robbery in the 2005 holdup of a pizza delivery man.
Tate, now 21, was on probation for the 1999 death of a 6-year-old playmate when the robbery occurred.
He is already serving 30 years in prison for violating his probation.
In a negotiated sentence, he will serve 10 years for the robbery while serving the time for violating his probation.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, he is scheduled to be released from prison in 2031.
Dressed in black pants and a beige and gray shirt, Tate seemed relaxed in the courtroom, politely answering a judge's questions.
''I'm all right,'' he told reporters as Broward Sheriff's Office court deputies escorted him through a hallway later.
''Mr. Tate's been around a long time, his name's been around a long time,'' said Chief Assistant State Attorney Chuck Morton. ``He finally put an end to his case. It's really tragic that his life has taken this course and I don't feel good about that at all. But nevertheless, justice is served.''
JAILED AT 12
Tate was 12 in 1999 when he was arrested and charged as an adult for beating playmate Tiffany Eunick to death at his Pembroke Park home.
Two years later, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, making history as the youngest person in the United States to receive such a sentence.
''We took a 12-year-old kid and locked him up in an adult penitentiary and basically subjected him to the worst of the worst -- even when he went to a juvenile facility, he was with the worst of the worst,'' said Tate's defense attorney, Jim Lewis. ``And this is how he grew up.''
His conviction was overturned by an appeals court, and a plea agreement led to his January 2004 release. In September of 2004, while under house arrest, he was arrested in a park for having a knife and being out of his house. A judge added five years to his 10-year probation but did not send him back to prison. Tate was arrested on May 23, 2005, for robbing the delivery man.
He previously pleaded guilty to the robbery and to violating his probation in 2006, but withdrew the guilty plea on the robbery.
Acting Circuit Court Judge Joel Lazarus sentenced Tate to 30 years in prison for violating probation -- a sentence that Lewis plans to fight.
Lewis said he will try to get that sentence knocked down to 10 years.
He said evidence that came out after the sentencing shows that Tate was not the gunman in the robbery.
Lewis said Tate ordered pizzas to be delivered to a Pembroke Park apartment and took pies from the car, but did not hold the gun on the delivery man.
''I admit he should be punished,'' Lewis said. ``But 30 years is just way too much.''
Morton said there was evidence that connected Tate to the crime, but also evidence that connected others. No one else has been charged in the robbery.
The arrest of another 12-year-old for murder earlier this year has drawn comparisons to Tate's case, with a key difference: Prosecutors charged the boy, accused of beating his 17-month-old cousin to death at her Lauderhill home, in juvenile court.
Lewis and Tate's mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, said that's how Tate's murder case should have been handled.
''You put them in a juvenile system, they're with children,'' said Grossett-Tate. ``They've not being trained to be career criminals.''
Waiting to catch an elevator at the courthouse Tuesday, she said: ``I'm tired of the whole system, the whole case. I'm just tired.''
Richard Rosenbaum, an attorney who previously represented Tate, called his former client ``a good person.''
''He has a good heart,'' Rosenbaum said. ``Unfortunately, society sort of ruined him by sending him away the way they did.''
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
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