March 12, 2001 -- It's not that the mother of a murdered 6-year-old girl feels sorry for the boy who was convicted of brutally killing the little girl. But she says she wants to try to forgive the 14-year-old.
Lionel Tate, who was 12 at the time that he killed Tiffany Eunick by tossing her around in imitation of professional wrestlers, has been sentenced to life in prison without parole after being tried as an adult and convicted of first degree murder charges.
Tate's defense attorney is getting some surprising support for his appeal to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for clemency. The chief prosecutor in the case says he supports a lighter sentence for the boy.
Life without parole is the minimum sentence for first degree murder in Florida. Had Tate been 16 at the time of the killing, he could have faced the death penalty.
Tiffany's mother says she thinks it's sad that the boy might not get another chance to make something of his life — even though he murdered her daughter. She says she believes Tate's mother should have agreed to the plea bargain offered by prosecutors that would have put the boy in a juvenile detention center for three years and then given him 10 years probation.
"I was saddened because Lionel had gotten a second chance to life," Deweese Eunick said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "My daughter didn't get that. He had gotten a second chance to life where he was able to get three years and would have been rehabilitated, and that saddened my heart that they did not take that so that he would have a second chance to life."
Eunick said that for her, the question of the boy's age is irrelevant.
"It's more that he's a human being, you know?" she said. "And in spite of him murdering my daughter and taking my daughter's life, the thing is back in the olden days, you did an eye for an eye, right? Jesus came, Jesus died for all our sins. When we do things wrong, we can go to him, we can ask for forgiveness, right? So who am I not to forgive him for what he did to my daughter and did to my — to my life?"
Guilt 'Clear, Obvious, Indisputable'
On Friday, Broward County Judge Joel Lazarus rejected defense requests that he throw out the jury's verdict. He called the murder "cold, callous and indescribably cruel."
He admitted he was moved by the outpouring of public sympathy for the boy, but added, "at the same time I am dismayed by the lack of concern for the child victimized by Lionel Tate."
Anyone who saw the physical evidence in the case could never label Tiffany's death "accidental," he said.
"The evidence of Lionel Tate's guilt is clear, obvious and indisputable," Lazarus said in a hearing Friday on the request. "And that evidence supports the jury's verdict."
Tate's defense attorney said the boy was just imitating the professional wrestlers on television, but the beating he administered on the girl left her with a fractured skull, ruptured kidney, broken rib and 32 other injuries.
At the time of the incident, Tate weighed 180 pounds, and his victim weighed just 48.
"This was a vicious and brutal attack over the course of five minutes on a little 6-year-old first grade girl with such force that experts testified it was equal to falling out of a second or third story building," District Attorney Ken Padowitz said on Good Morning America. "The juvenile system in Florida only offered 6 to 9 months in a juvenile facility. That wasn't justice for Tiffany Eunick.
"I presented the case to a grand jury and had them look at the evidence and make the decision. They determined it was first degree murder," he added.
Tate's mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, said she couldn't accept the plea bargain because she does not believe her son is a murderer, and could not tell him he was going to jail for playing.
"Kathleen was saying that how do you tell a child that he's going to prison for the rest of his life for playing?" Deweese Eunick asked. "No, you can't tell him that because you're lying to him. He's not going to prison because he was playing. He's going to prison because he murdered. That's the bottom line here. It sounds harsh. It sounds cold. But that's the truth."