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Created: September 13, 2002
Latest Update: September 13, 2002
On Tuesday, September 17, 2002, Ken Padowitz, Esq wrote:Subject: Lionel Tate case
I thought a letter I recently wrote to the Editor of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel may help kick off some discussion.
On Tuesday, September 17, 2002, jeanne answered:Thanks, Ken. Here's the letter, kids!
Girl's death wasn't a case of rough play Ken Padowitz, Esq.
Karmin Adler & Padowitz
CommentaryRe Sun Sentinel's July 25th Editorial, Criminal Justice - Treat Juveniles as Juveniles: You describe Lionel Tate killing Tiffany Eunich as "…he killed a younger, smaller friend during rough play". Such a description perpetuates a myth that was disproved at trial and minimizes the horrific actions of the defendant.
Lionel Tate punched, kicked and threw tiny first grader, six year old Tiffany Eunick. With each bone crushing smash from his one hundred sixty six pound frame, forty eight pound Tiffany would have screamed out in intense pain and agony from this vicious assault. She was fourteen inches shorter than her attacker and no match for someone three and one half times her weight.
Tiffanys' cries were ignored as each second ticked by and thirty five to forty punches the Defendant admitted to, found their mark. Seconds turned into minutes as the beating continued for approximately five minutes, according to a national child abuse expert. The forces that her body endured were equal to a fall from a second or third story building.
As Tiffany lay on the floor, her life ebbed away from internal bleeding due to thirty five injuries which included a cracked skull, bleeding on three different sides of her brain, a broken rib, a lacerated liver, hemorrhaging kidneys, and over twenty eight bruises. Lionel Tate, who described Tiffany as rolling around on the floor acting like a baby, having urinated in her pants, went back to watching television. When Tate allegedly went and got his mother because Tiffany was not breathing, her body was already cold.
Tate was twelve and a half with a normal I.Q.. He is not slow, mentally retarded or mentally ill. Rather he's been described as street smart and bright and who's had major behavior problems for the past eight years which include fighting, assault, lying, stealing and fifteen school suspensions. He's smart enough to see razor blades, blood and violent images on one psychologists' test and nine months later, after numerous court hearings he's attended, takes the same test and miraculously sees angels and butterflies.
An unsettling phenomenon in this country is where a victim of a crime is quickly forgotten or diminished by people rushing to focus on the criminal. What about little Tiffany's once bright future? Where are all the stories on the pretty pigtailed girl who held so much promise only to have her life beaten out of her?
The Broward State Attorney's Office reviewed this murder and quickly realized that in juvenile court, Tate would spend six months in juvenile detention - one month for every year of Tiffany's life. Eighteen people from this community, your Grand Jury, listened to all the evidence and armed with the full knowledge of all the legal options, and after lengthy reflection, indicted Tate for first degree murder as an adult.
The evidence clearly supported the charge of first degree murder. I recognized the mandatory sentence for the crime was not appropriate in this case. The State Attorney's Office offered a plea to second degree murder with three years in juvenile detention, one year of house arrest, and ten years of probation. Special conditions included one thousand hours of community service and psychological testing and counseling.
It was rejected. Again and again. An entire defense team consisting of a child psychiatrist, psychologist, trial lawyer and mother continuously rejected the offer week after week, all year, until Lionel Tate did so in open court during questioning by the judge.
This was not childs play or rough housing. Tiffany and the Defendant were not playmates, having known each other two to four weeks and being separated by six grade levels. Not in the wildest imagination would a play ground fight or household rough housing which results in accidental injury or death compare to this prolonged and brutal homicidal beating.
Twelve courageous women and men listened to almost two weeks of evidence and argument and returned a verdict of guilty of first degree murder beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. Courageous, because they separated out wrenching sympathy and followed the law. Weeks of evidence that only this jury had the full benefit of hearing.
For many years, the law in Florida has been that a minor can commit child abuse. If a minor kills someone during that crime, it's felony first degree murder.
Lionel Tate is now guilty of first degree murder. For Tiffany Eunick, justice was served. The criminal justice system worked and continues to work in this case. Juvenile detention and then life in prison is the legal sentence, but not the appropriate final sentence for Tate, now fourteen years old.
I advocate that Tate receive a reasonable and appropriate sentence, taking into consideration his age at the time he committed the crime. In my opinion, Tate should receive, at at a Clemenency hearing by the Govenor, a Life prison term with automatic eligibility for parole. This would give the defendant the "ticket" and some hope for his release in 6 months, 6 years, 16 years or never, depending on his rehabilitation and reddiness to be placed back into society as a law abiding citizen.
This case and others like it will cause a positive change to a juvenile court system, not adequately set up to handle murders such as this. I support State Senator, Walter "Skip" Campbell's proposed legislation to give youthfull offenders some hope of rehabilitation.
...and for Tiffany, justice will be served.
Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, September 2002.
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