Mother of Boy Convicted of Murder Speaks Out

ByABC News

Jan. 26, 2001 -- The mother of a 13-year-old boy convicted of murdering a 6-year-old-girl by practicing wrestling moves on her, says she still can’t believe the jury found her son guilty.

"I thought she [the judge who announced the verdict] made amistake," said Kathleen Grossett-Tate during a television show this morning. "I was waiting forher to say I'm sorry, I made a mistake — it's not guilty."

Lionel Tate, who was tried as an adult, was 12 at the time of the killing. He faces life in prison without parole after a jury refused to accept the boy's defense that he killed the girl unintentionally while imitating wrestling moves he had seen on television.

An autopsy showed that Tiffany Eunick, who died in July 1999, suffered a fractured skull,lacerated liver, broken rib, internal hemorrhaging, cuts and bruises.

Experts said the injuries were typical of a girl who had fallen from a three-story building. Defense witnesses also concluded Lionel's defense would not have caused all of Tiffany's injuries.

Appealing the Verdict

Jim Lewis, the boy's attorney, promised to appeal Thursday's verdict saying the judge should have allowed testimony from psychologists and experts who study the impact of TV violence on children.

"The jurors heard some about wrestling, but I don't think itwas enough," Lewis said. "They did not hear from the experts, thepsychologists, the media violence experts, that could havepersuaded this jury that Lionel had fallen into the trap so manyyoungsters fall into."

Lewis was only allowed to present limited testimony about Lionel's obsession withwrestling.

"The injuries were so extensive we all felt that it wasn't anaccident," juror William Stevenson told The Associated Press. "We had to abide by thelaw, and the law spelled it out. It wasn't just wrestling."

Sentencing is scheduled for March 2. Tate is one of the youngest convicted murderers in state history. He could not be sentenced to death for the crime because he is younger than 16.

An Appeal to the Governor

Lewis and his mother said they also plan to ask Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to commute the sentence.

"I want my sonout," Grosett-Tate said this morning. "I want my son out. He should not be there."

"I don't think any rational, compassionate human being wouldsit still and let this child spend the rest of his life inprison," Lewis said.

Prosecutor Ken Padowitz could not say how what he would say to the governor.

Before the trial Padowitz offered a plea bargain consisting of a three-year sentence plus 10 years' probation if the teen pleadedguilty to second-degree murder but the family refused to take it.

Criminal justice experts say the case is unusual because of the circumstances but to have a child convicted under adult laws is not.

Many states now have laws requiring juveniles to be tried as adults, said Melissa Sickmund, a senior researcher at the National Center for Juvenile Justice.

"Most states have said they don't think the juvenile justice system is for murders," Sickmund said. "What has changed over the years is the transfer of juveniles to the adult justice system has become more automatic."'s Maria F. Durand, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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