YEAR OLD GETS LIFE FOR MURDER, TO BE RELEASED AFTER 3 YEARS
By Jon Christian Ryter
January 2, 2004
The killer, Lionel Tate was 12 at the time of his crime. Tate was described as an immature 12 year old with a low IQ, but his IQ was not low enough for attorney James Lewis to use it in his defense. Try as he did, Lewis could not convince the jury that Tate didn't know what he was doing. And, he couldn't convince them that society was to blame for Tate's crime. When the Tate trial began, Lewis tried to subpoena Hulk Hogan, The Rock and The Sting, and make the trial of Lionel Tate a trial against professional wrestling. In the end, the Florida Superior Court Judge Joel T. Lazarus denied Lewis' strategy, stating that the WWF superstars could not be compelled to act as "expert witnesses," albeit hostile ones, for the defense--against their wishes. Lazarus allowed the defense to show the jury videos of professional wrestlers and argue that televised violence impacts the mindset of children who view TV violence as entertainment. (Of course, most Americans have known this for decades and have fought hard to curb displays of violence on the large screen as well as the small screen. But the same lawyers who argue that society is to blame for most crimes of violence ardently defend what they perceive is the constitutional right of the purveyors of violence to promote murder, mayhem and masochistic sadism not only in movies and TV but in music and video games as well.)
The product of a broken home, the only real argument Tate's lawyer was ultimately able to prove was that Tate was a perpetually-unsupervised 12-year with a bizarre sense of reality. Tate's mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, a Florida Highway Patrol officer, said the death of 6-year old Tiffany Eunick, the daughter of a close friend, was nothing more than a tragic accident caused by "rough play." The jury saw and heard something else.
On July 28, 1999 Grossett-Tate, who occasionally traded free babysitting with Tiffany Eunick's mother when each other worked, picked Tiffany up at Eunick's home and brought the child to her middle class Pembroke Pines residence. After cooking dinner for the two children and parking them in front of the TV, Grossett-Tate, who had a rough day, when upstairs to lay down and relax. The events which transpired suggest Grossett-Tate left Lionel to "babysit" Tiffany Eunick. That in itself is revealing since it clearly suggests that Grossett-Tate (who testified that Lionel was shy a few bricks) felt her son was mentally and psychologically mature enough to watch a 6-year old, thereby diminishing the validity of the argument offered by the defense that Tate had a sub-normal IQ and therefore was not accountable for his actions. If the defense argument was true, then Grossett-Tate was negligent for leaving two defenseless children unattended.
According to Grossett-Tate's testimony to law enforcement officers investigating the crime, shortly after 10 p.m. the volume of noise from her son and Eunick was loud enough that Grossett-Tate felt it was necessary to yell down the stairwell for them to "settle down." The house became quiet. Forty minutes later Lionel Tate entered his mother's bedroom to inform her that Tiffany was not breathing.
Lionel Tate told investigating officers that he and Tiffany were pretending they were wrestlers, and that he had Tiffany in headlock when she stopped breathing. If that was true, the death would have been nothing more than a tragic accident. If anyone was at fault, it would have been Tate's mother for failing to supervise the children in her care. However, the crime scene investigators did not believe Tate. And, it was because the State was able to prove that Lionel Tate deliberately lied to cover up what he had done that he was charged with first degree murder. A 166-lb person doing a flying-whatever from the top of a banister onto the prone body of a 46-lb person two or three times cannot be construed as an accident. Stupidity, perhaps. Accident, no.
An autopsy revealed the trauma that Tiffany Eunick's body suffered that night. Her liver was torn in half inside her body, her skull was fractured and her ribs were broken. Her entire body was covered with bruises. Tiffany did not die from being held in a headlock by her 12-year old playmate. Tate's lawyer, James Lewis, admitted that the 166-lb 12-year old (who was 14 years old when he stood trial for murder as an adult), was simulating wrestling moves and accidentally jumped on 46-lb Tiffany from the banister of the staircase, crushing her ribs and fracturing her skull. The prosecution argued that Tate had apparently done this several times because the noise finally caused Grossett-Tate to get out of bed and yell down the stairs at them. By that time, it was too late. Eunick's liver had been torn in half by the force of the body slams as she lay dying on the floor of Grossett-Tate's home.
Kathleen Grossett-Tate, who had what one might call a protected job title, was not charged with any crime or prosecuted for child neglect. I believe any reasonable, intelligent parent would not have left a 12-year with so-called developmental problems in charge of a 6-year old while she went to bed. Second, any noise sufficient enough to bring that parent to the head of the stairwell should have been sufficient to make that reasonable parent investigate the source of the noise--by physically checking the children involved and what they were doing. Had she done so when the first body slam occurred, Tiffany Eunick might still be alive.
And, had Lionel Tate not lied to investigators its likely he would not have been charged with first degree murder. Lewis was offered a plea agreement. Because of the trauma surrounding the death and due to Tate's age, the State of Florida was willing to let Tate plead guilty to manslaughter on a plea agreement. Tate would be sentenced to three years in a juvenile center, followed by a year of house arrest, 10 years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. But Lewis was convinced he could use the "violence on TV-WWF defense" and prove that the WWF or television or society was the real villain in this tragedy. He turned down the plea offer believing the jury would not convict a boy, just turning 14, of first degree murder for what they would most certainly view as nothing more than an unfortunate accident.
Jim Lewis was wrong. Juries always blame someone when a victim's liver is virtually torn in half inside her body, or when the victim's skull is fractured and her ribs are crushed. Tiffany Eunick suffered a painful death that no 6-year old should have been forced to endure. Her entire life was taken--not just two or three years of her childhood...her entire life. Snuffed out. Gone. Forever. Someone had to pay for that. Lewis failed in his attempt to blame pro wrestling. He failed in his attempt to blame television violence. And, he failed in his attempt to blame society. The jury held Lionel Tate solely responsible for a horrible crime committed solely by him for his amusement.
Judge Lazarus sentenced then 14-year old Lionel Tate to life in prison. It was a proper sentence. It doesn't matter how old, or young, the murderer was. Lionel Tate stole the life of Tiffany Eunick. She is no less dead today because her killer was 12 years old at the time of the crime, or that he was 14 years old at the time of his conviction, or that he is 16-years old and wants to do something else with his life. I'm sure, if she could speak, Tiffany Eunick would tell the politically correct social justice do-gooders that she is tired of having the flesh rot off her bones in the grave she has been in since August, 1999. I'm just guessing here, but I imagine that Tiffany would say she would much rather be running and playing, and going to school and enjoying the love of her mother and her friends. However, one of the jury members, jury foreman Elise Schifano told the Sun-Sentinel after the sentencing that the jury had no idea what sentence the judge would impose when they rendered their verdict. Had she known Lazarus would sentence him to life in prison, Schifano said she would have testified on behalf of Tate at his sentencing hearing. Another juror, William Stevenson said the injuries were so extensive that the jurors all felt that it wasn't an accident. "We had to abide by the law, and the law spelled it out. It wasn't just wrestling." Tiffany's father, Mark James, interviewed before the sentence was handed down said "I hope he gets life for the brutal way he murdered my daughter. He needs to do the time for the crime and then he can be rehabilitated after that in the next life." James was shocked to learn that the jury foreman and the prosecutor, Ken Padowitz, both supported a reduced sentence for Tate.
Why is it that the advocates of social justice always find it so easy to forget the victims of the crimes? Why is it so easy for the advocates of social justice to dehumanize the victims as they create victims out of their killers? If you could bring the victim back from the grave, I'd say its okay to show leniency for the killer. But you can't. The victim is required to serve the "full sentence." Why should the sentence be any less severe for the killer?
When Lionel Tate was convicted and sentenced to life without parole, the social justice freaks jumped on the "foul" bandwagon and denounced Judge Lazarus for the stiff sentencing of a child. Lazarus defended his decision charging that none of his critics were privy to the horrific facts that were brought out during the trial. Tate's mother appealed to Governor Jeb Bush who was asked by the media whether he thought Tate should have been tried as an adult. The question was a political football Bush did not feel like carrying to the goal line in an election year.
Kathleen Grossett-Tate also appealed to Pope John Paul II and the United Nations Human Rights Commission through her new lawyer, Henry Hunter. Hunter petitioned the UN to intercede on Grossett-Tate's behalf. When that failed, Grossett-Tate appealed for help from the New Jersey-based Black Cops Against Police Brutality in an attempt to make the punishment meted out to her son appear like a civil rights issue. It was through BCAPB that Grossett-Tate linked up with celebrity civil rights criminal defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran who filed for a mistrial with a Florida appeals court. The appeals court overturned Tate's conviction on December 10, 2003. The reason? The court agreed with Cochran that the prosecution should have ordered a competency hearing before the trial began based on the defense "experts" argument during the trial that Tate had a low IQ and could not distinguish between right and wrong. The prosecution didn't buy into Lewis' argument and, as noted earlier, neither did the jury. Clearly Tate has a low IQ--but it was not low enough that Tate could be construed as being legally mentally deficient. (Of course, the Florida appellate court system--the Lawton Chiles legal system--leans so far to the left that the higher court judges seldom apply the rule of law in their decisions--unless the defendant is a middle class white male. If you are a minority before a Florida appellate court, you are more often than not judged by the social justice yardstick with punishment meted in centimeters rather than years.)
Forced to either retry Tate in what would undoubtedly become a media circus, or negotiate a plea that is acceptable to the State--with memories of a very close vote in Florida in 2000 and with the Election of 2004 just around the corner, and with the civil rights hucksters poised to denounce the Bush Brothers as law and order racists who sentence children to prison for life--Johnnie Cochran and Henry Hunter felt like they were in the driver's seat. Cochran and Hunter are negotiating a reduced sentence for Lionel Tate. The deal offered by the State is second degree murder. Hunter and Cochran want the charge reduced to manslaughter--a charge that would carry a 3-year sentence. Tate has already served 33 months. He would be home in three. Tiffany Eunick will never go home.
Where is the fairness to Tiffany?
Tate did the crime. He needs to do the time. Social justice whiners
complain that Tate's sentence was unfair because he was 14 when he
was convicted. He was sentenced to life without parole. The State
could reasonably expect that Tate would be their guest for approximately
58 years. But the liberals believe that's too harsh of a sentence.
But, look at the victim. Tiffany, who had every right to expect to
live to the ripe old age of 78, was robbed for 72 of those years.
Where is the justice for Tiffany if her killer does not have to give
up at least the same number of years she lost?
© 2004 Jon Christian Ryter - All Rights Reserved
Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.
Today, Jon is an advertising executive with
the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com
has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders
who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his
books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website.
"Why is it that the advocates of social justice always find it so easy to forget the victims of the crimes? Why is it so easy for the advocates of social justice to dehumanize the victims as they create victims out of their killers?"