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Attorneys argue prison fate of convicted teen murderer

Lionel Tate
Tate listens to his attorney during Friday's hearing.  

FT. LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- A judge was told Friday that a mandatory life sentence given to a 14-year-old convicted of murder for killing another child should not be reduced because his mother rejected a plea agreement for a lesser sentence.

The attorney for Lionel Tate is arguing for a lighter sentence for his client, who was convicted as an adult of first-degree murder for killing 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in 1999, when Lionel was 12.

His attorneys have said the death occurred accidentally when the 166-pound boy tried out wrestling moves on the 48-pound girl. The prosecution said the death was the result of a brutal and sustained attack.

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The prosecution offered a plea deal for three years in juvenile hall, one year of house arrest and 10 years of probation and counseling. Lionel's mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, rejected the offer.

In arguments Friday, Assistant State's Attorney Ken Padowitz argued Grossett-Tate should have known life imprisonment was the only alternative to the plea deal. Lionel's mother repeatedly said she didn't recall ever discussing that alternative with her lawyer.

The defense is trying to convince the judge that the boy's sentence should be reduced in part because he never understood the ramifications of rejecting the deal and going to trial.

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.

By law, the judge must sentence Lionel to life in prison, and though the prosecution favors that outcome, it has also said it would not object a commutation by Gov. Jeb Bush.

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

A representative of Amnesty International testified Friday that sentencing Lionel to life would violate international law.

"We believe that to apply that kind of sentence to a child under the age of 18 violates the international treaties that the U.S. is, in fact, a party to," said Ajamu Baraka. "The decision to try this child as an adult is a decision we oppose."

Defense attorney Jim Lewis argued Friday the judge should also consider Lionel's mental capacity, which he says is below normal. He called neurological psychologist Dr. Wiley Mittenberg to the stand to discuss tests he conducted on the teen.

"There is a four-year delay in mental age," Mittenberg said, "which means that Lionel has an age equivalent of about 9 or 10 years old, compared with his chronological age of 14."

Padowitz pointed out Lionel's IQ tested average for his age, but Mittenberg responded it fell in the lower level of the average range.

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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