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Attorneys argue fate of convicted teen murderer

Lionel Tate
Tate, 13, will be sentenced March 2 for the first-degree murder of his 6-year-old playmate  

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- The attorney for 14-year-old Lionel Tate will be in court Friday to argue for a lighter sentence for his client, who could get life in an adult prison for murder.

Lionel was convicted as an adult of first-degree murder for the killing of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in 1999, when Lionel was 12. His attorneys have said it occurred accidentally when the 166-pound boy tried out wrestling moves on the 48-pound girl.

The defense claimed it was an accident, but the prosecution said the death was the result of a brutal and sustained attack.

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With Lionel facing a mandatory life prison sentence, there has been public outcry that Broward County Judge Joel Lazarus should either reduce the charge, thus reducing the sentence, or impose a lighter sentence altogether.

"Our best hope is that the judge, in fact, is going to reduce the verdict down, hopefully, to manslaughter, and consider juvenile sanctions for the child," Lionel's attorney, Jim Lewis, told CNN.

Several of the jurors who convicted Lionel in January have come forward to support a lighter sentence, joined by several local and religious groups.

"Everybody did their job, and now we have injustice at the end of the line," said Robert Buschel, with the Broward County Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The group is asking the prosecutor to negotiate with the family for a lower sentence.

"Somebody has to step in -- and it's the prosecutor in this case -- and say, 'All right, I'm ending the madness right here. And we're going to shoot for justice, and we're going to get it today,'" Buschel said.

Lionel and his mother turned down a plea bargain of three years in juvenile hall, one year house arrest and 10 years of probation and counseling.

In addition to his age, Lionel's mental capacity should also be considered, Lewis told CNN. He said tests have proven Lionel has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old.

Prosecutors have said the judge has no choice but to impose the mandatory sentence and that only Gov. Jeb Bush can reduce the penalty. Lewis maintains laws allow the judge to reduce the sentence.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 9. Lazarus has set aside the entire day to hear arguments in the case.



RELATED STORIES:
Florida judge hears motions in child murder case
February 23, 2001
Defense to appeal boy's murder conviction in 'wrestling death'
January 26, 2001
Jury finds teen guilty of first-degree murder in Florida wrestling death
January 25, 2001

RELATED SITES:
World Wrestling Federation
American Academy of Pediatrics - Child Health & Safety Information


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