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Teen serving life offered deal, again

Lionel Tate's conviction for killing girl overturned

Lionel Tate
Lionel Tate

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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Florida teenager Lionel Tate, serving a life sentence for killing a 6-year-old playmate when he was 12, will get a second chance to accept a plea deal offered before his trial, the Broward County state attorney's office said Friday.

Under the agreement, "Lionel Tate would plead guilty to second-degree murder. He would be sentenced to a total of three years in state juvenile confinement ... followed by one year spent under house arrest and 10 years probation," the state attorney's office said in a news release. He also would be required to undergo psychological treatment, it said.

In January, Tate, now 16, will have been behind bars for three years.

The defense said the new deal would allow Tate to be released in mid- to late January, but the state attorney's office said it would be in three months.

"I'm sure that will be worked out," said Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for the state attorney's office.

"This was the right thing to do before the trial, and it's the right thing to do now," Ishoy said.

The state attorney's office said the offer was made after consulting with the victim's mother, Deweese Eunick-Paul.

"Mrs. Eunick-Paul has a big heart and was willing to offer Lionel Tate the same opportunity that she agreed to three years ago before the trial," State Attorney Mike Satz said in the written release.

Eunick-Paul's attorney said she will have no comment before a planned news conference Monday.

"This is something she knows about and has talked about at length with the state attorney's office," said Ken Padowitz. "This will be the first time Lionel Tate has accepted responsibility for the murder of Tiffany Eunick."

The punishment imposed on the minor at his sentencing in early 2001 caused a national outcry.

His attorneys at the time said he accidentally killed Tiffany Eunick in 1999 while imitating professional wrestling moves he'd seen on television. Lionel's mother, who was baby-sitting the girl in their south Florida home, was taking a nap when the incident took place.

After Lionel's mother rejected a plea offer, the boy was convicted and sentenced. He was 13 when convicted, and 14 when sentenced.

His mother later said she had not understood that if Lionel were convicted of first-degree murder, it would carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

The 4th Florida District Court of Appeal ruled earlier this month that Lionel should get a second trial because his competency was not evaluated before the first one.

Lionel was euphoric after receiving the news.

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

Despite Lionel's defense of imitating wrestlers, 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 court ruled that it did.


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