Lionel Tate, the 14-year-old boy serving a life sentence for the murder of a 6-year-old family friend, is now in a juvenile prison, having been transferred three days after he entered an adult prison.
Officials secretly moved Tate on Monday night, shifting him from the South Florida Reception Center near Miami to the maximum security Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Center about 100 miles to the north.
He will be kept with 47 other boys convicted of violent crimes, said Catherine Arnold, a spokeswoman with the Department of Juvenile Justice. The facility also houses 48 male sex offenders who are segregated in a separate wing. Arnold said Tuesday that Tate was being evaluated and will soon be assigned an education program, a counselor and mental health treatment. "Whatever his particular needs are, after evaluation, those needs will be addressed," Arnold said. Tate will be kept at Okeechobee for the foreseeable future, she said, unless he becomes violent or disruptive. He would be sent back to an adult prison if that happens, she said. Jim Lewis, Tate's attorney, did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday. Tate received a mandatory life sentence Friday for the 1999 murder of Tiffany Eunick, whom his mother was baby-sitting. Tate says he accidentally killed the girl while imitating pro wrestlers, but a jury rejected that defense, convicting him of first-degree murder. The girl suffered numerous injuries, including a skull fracture and a severed liver. Lewis said Monday that a notice of appeal will be filed this week in addition to a request for clemency with the governor. Janet Keels, coordinator for the Office of Executive Clemency in Tallahassee, said prisoners are not normally eligible for clemency until they have served two years of their sentence, but Gov. Jeb Bush can waive that requirement. It normally takes a year to process the request, but the governor can also order that expedited, she said.
If that happens, investigators would prepare a report interviewing everyone involved in the case, including prosecutor Ken Padowitz, Broward County Judge Joel Lazarus, who oversaw his trial, and Tiffany's mother, Deweese Eunick-Paul. The request would then be considered by the governor and the six independently elected members of the state cabinet. For it to be granted, the governor and at least three members of the cabinet must agree. "It's not exactly the federal pardon system," Keels said. She said the next scheduled clemency hearing is in June. Bush's spokeswoman did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday, but has previously said he would have no comment on the clemency request, particularly since it hasn't been received. Padowitz has said he'll recommend the governor shorten Tate's sentence, but wouldn't say by how much. Before trial, Padowitz offered Tate a plea bargain of three years in a juvenile prison, a year of house arrest and 10 years of probation, but the defense rejected the offer. Lewis said Monday that while he now thinks the three-year sentence initially offered by Padowitz was fair, he thinks Lionel should be released immediately. "He has been punished enough," Lewis said. Eunick-Paul told CBS's "The Early Show" on Tuesday that while she thinks three years would have been a light sentence, she is not opposed to Tate eventually being released. "That would give Lionel a chance to at least try to get rehabilitated," Eunick-Paul said.
But she disputed the claims by Tate and his mother, Florida Highway Patrol trooper Kathleen Grossett-Tate, that Tiffany's death was an accident. "You don't play with that kind of force," she said. "My daughter's body spoke for itself."