Florida boy faces life term
Clergy, friends want lower sentence for teen convicted of murder
FT. LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- "Please, don't give this child life."
Tears rolled down Lionel Tate's cheeks on Friday as Deborah White pleaded with Broward County Judge Joel Lazarus to be lenient with the 14-year-old boy, convicted of killing 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick when he was 12.
Lazarus listened to friends, teachers, relatives and clergymen make the same plea, more emotionally than the earlier arguments presented by Lionel's defense team trying to keep the boy away from a sentence of life in prison.
White told the court that she took care of Lionel when his mother was at work, and that her own children -- a 6-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy with cerebral palsy -- adored the boy who was now a convicted murderer.
Most of those who spoke on Lionel's behalf argued that the conviction and attendant life sentence were more than the crime warranted. Some, however, argued that Lazarus overturn the verdict and send Lionel for counseling.
Lazarus recessed the court to consider the motions after hearing from both sides in the case, which focused in its sentencing phase on a Florida law that required Tate be charged as an adult with first-degree murder in the death of a child -- and mandates a life sentence on conviction.
In January, a jury convicted Lionel of killing Tiffany while the 166-pound boy was practicing professional wrestling moves on the 48-pound girl.
Lionel's mother, Kathalean Grossett-Tate, told the court that she wished she could do something to "give Tiffany back, but that's not going to happen."
"I have to stay here and fight for Lionel, because I know how Lionel felt about Tiffany, and I knew about how Tiffany felt about Lionel," she said. "So please be lenient."
Defense argued accidental death
The boy's defense argued that Tate killed the girl accidentally.
"All of us involved in the defense do not believe that Lionel intentionally meant to kill or to harm Tiffany," said defense attorney Jim Lewis. "We just don't believe it."
But the prosecution argued Tiffany died as a result of a brutal, sustained attack, and wanted the judge to sentence Lionel to the mandatory life sentence. The victim's father agreed.
"We need to be protected from Lionel Tate," said Mark James, Tiffany's father. "That's why I'm asking the court to go ahead and render the justice, which is life imprisonment."
Prosecutor offers to help seek clemency
The prosecution had 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 rejected the offer.
Lionel's attorneys tried to convince the judge that the boy's sentence should be reduced in part because he and his mother never understood the ramifications of rejecting the deal and going to trial.
"It's what we call the nightmare scenario," said Lewis. "We seem to be going down that tunnel, and if somebody somewhere, either this judge or an appellate judge, doesn't stand up and stop it, we're going to have a great miscarriage of justice."
Lionel's case has drawn widespread public outcry. Several jurors who convicted him of murder have come forward to support a lighter sentence.
Though prosecutors are arguing for the mandatory sentence, they have said they would not be opposed to a commutation of that sentence by Gov. Jeb Bush. One prosecutor has offered to help seek clemency for Lionel once he is sentenced.
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