A 13-year-old boy was convicted today of first degree murder in the death of a 6-year-old girl, as the jury rejected defense arguments that the girl died accidentally while the boy was imitating professional wrestlers' moves.
Lionel Tate, who was tried as an adult, faces life in prison without parole. Sentencing is scheduled for March 2. The boy's lawyer said he would appeal.
The Broward Circuit Court jury deliberated three hours before finding Tate guilty of intentionally killing Tiffany Eunick on July 28, 1999. The girl died of blunt trauma injuries sustained when she was playing with Tate at his home in Miramar, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale.
"Tiffany Eunick … was beaten to death by Lionel Tate," prosecuting attorney Ken Padowitz said in closing arguments Wednesday at the Broward County court house.
"He knew he was hurting her, that every punch, blow stomp and kick on her little body hurt, but he kept going. When she was found and given CPR she was already cold, already dead."
The prosecutor also reminded jurors that Florida law does not require that he actually intended to kill the girl to be convicted of first degree murder, but only that he intended to commit the acts that led to her death and that the acts were abusive.
"He didn't have to wake up that morning and say 'I'm going to kill Tiffany Eunick,"' Padowitz said. "All that is required is that he intended to act, not that he intended the result."
Prosecution Plea Bargain Was Rejected
The defense did not deny that the 180-pound Tate caused 48-pound Eunick's death, but argued that it was accidental. The girl suffered a fractured skull, lacerated liver, broken rib, internal hemorrhaging and cuts and bruises.
The jury apparently responded to the graphic close-up photographs of the girl's injuries that prosecutor showed them during his closing arguments. Padowitz said it was impossible to accept Tate's story that the girl died as a result of play wrestling.
Defense attorney Jim Lewis based Tate's defense on the boy's enthusiasm for professional wrestling, and in particular Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He was denied in his request to have Johnson and other pro wrestlers testify during the trial.
The boy's own accounts of the killing changed over time. He told police he hit her against a table, but later told a court-appointed psychiatrist that he hit her against a wall and a banister accidentally as he was trying to toss her onto a couch.
Tate is one of the youngest convicted murderers in state history. Because he is younger than 16, he could not be sentenced to death for the crime.
Prosecutors had offered him a chance to plead guilty to second degree murder and accept a three-year prison sentence and 10 years' probation, but the deal was rejected.
The Associated Press contributed to this report