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Father of Lionel Tate urges leniency

Lionel Tate
Lionel Tate in a recent prison photo.  

Described as 'upbeat' on arrival at prison

VICKSBURG, Mississippi (CNN) -- The father of Lionel Tate, the 14-year-old sentenced to life in prison for killing a 6-year-old playmate, said Wednesday his son needs to be punished, but the sentence he has been given is excessive.

John Tate also said he couldn't believe the boy's mother turned down a plea deal that would have put the boy in juvenile detention for three years, followed by house arrest and probation.

Lionel was convicted in Florida of first-degree murder for killing Tiffany Eunick while they were playing two years ago. He was 12 at the time. The girl suffered numerous injuries, including a skull fracture and a severed liver.

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Judge Joel Lazarus reads the sentence on March 9

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Lionel Tate's mother speaks about her son's conviction and her next step

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CNN's Wolf Blitzer speaks with the prosecutor and defense attorney about the 14-year-old's sentencing

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Lionel Tate's defense attorneys, Jim Lewis and Richard Rosenbaum, talk about the life sentence

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Florida Assistant State Attorney Ken Padowitz

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Excerpts from the judge's ruling and courtroom reaction

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    Lionel was sentenced to mandatory life in prison last week, despite pleas for leniency.

    "I know that a child's life is gone. I know he needs to be punished, but that is excessive to me," said the father, who lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi. "Lionel's as big as me, you know. ... I believe he just took it too far playing with her."

    "He's very playful, you know. He was just playing and carried it too far. I don't expect he really meant to do that," Tate told CNN affiliate WAPT.

    Tate said he was puzzled by the decision by the boy's mother to reject a plea bargain. The two have been divorced for several years.

    "I don't understand why she didn't take the plea," he said. "Life without parole is too much."

    In Florida, the administrator at the Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Corrections Center said Lionel was "very up" after being moved to the juvenile facility.

    In addition, Lionel's attorney, Jim Lewis, who met with the boy Wednesday, also described him as "upbeat" and said he is much better off at the juvenile facility "than in any adult prison."

    However, Lewis again said the boy should not be locked up and said a notice of appeal requesting a new trial had been filed.

    Lewis said he also will ask Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for a clemency hearing, probably within a couple of weeks. Bush has indicated he would be receptive to such a request.

    Lewis said Lionel is likely to be in the juvenile prison for some time before anything happens on the requests for clemency or a new trial. He said it will be six to 12 months before a hearing is scheduled on the appeal, and he called clemency a "complicated matter."

    Curtis Ranum, the administrator of the juvenile facility, said Lionel "is doing well. He arrived night before last around 7 o'clock. ... I was kind of impressed with him. He is a typical-appearing 14-year-old young lad. He was very pleasant when we brought him in, very respectful."

    Ranum said Lionel was kept separate from the prison population during his first night. Ranum said Lionel will live in an individual cell in a unit that contains a total of 16 inmates. He will be allowed to mingle with the prison population, the administrator said.

    Lionel will undergo a two-week orientation. Part of that, said Ranum, includes a "needs assessment" aimed at helping develop a "performance plan" for him.

    Barring any action by an appeals court or Bush, the Okeechobee facility, a maximum-security prison, will be his home until he is 18. At that point he is to be transferred to an adult prison to serve out his life sentence.

    His mother will not be allowed to see the boy until after the two-week orientation period ends, Ranum said. After that, she will be able to see Lionel on weekends.

    CNN Correspondent Mark Potter contributed to this report.

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    4:30pm ET, 4/16

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