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Teen serving life jubilant over retrial

Lionel Tate's conviction for killing girl when he was 12 overturned

Lionel Tate
Lionel Tate

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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Florida teenager Lionel Tate, serving a life sentence for killing a young girl in 1999 when he was 12, was euphoric after receiving news that an appeals court had overturned his conviction and said there should be a retrial in his case, his appeals lawyer said.

"He screamed and some of the guards I could hear clapping in the background. They were pretty pleased for him," attorney Richard Rosenbaum told CNN's "American Morning."

The Florida 4th District Court of Appeal said Tate, who was 12 when he killed 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick, should be retried because his competency was not evaluated before his trial.

Rosenbaum said the appeals court decision will be final in 15 days, and Tate has a right to go to trial in 90 days. The decision on whether the state will proceed to a retrial will be up to the state attorney's office, he said.

"The court ruled that there was not a sufficient showing that Lionel was competent pre-trial and that the court committed error in refusing the post-trial motions for competency that we filed," said Rosenbaum, who was not the boy's attorney during the first trial.

Tate's defense during the trial was that he killed Eunick accidentally while imitating the moves of professional wrestlers he saw on television. But prosecutors insisted the death of the severely beaten girl was no accident.

The appeals court said the question in Tate's case boiled down to whether the Florida Constitution required a competency evaluation before his trial. The judges ruled that it did.

Tate, in consultation with his mother, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Kathleen Grossett-Tate, had turned down a plea agreement that would have given him three years in a juvenile facility and 10 years of probation.

He should be offered that same deal again, said James Lewis, who was Tate's lawyer during his first trial.

Asked about critics, who said he didn't try the case well, Lewis said, "I've tried over 300 cases and I like to think I haven't made a mistake, but I don't think that's probably true."

"I like to think lawyers like Rosenbaum can fix any mistakes made at the trial level," Lewis said.

Next month, Tate will have been behind bars for three years, the sentence offered in the initial plea deal.


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