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State to appeal ruling that may free teen killer

By Associated Press
Published December 29, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE - The state Attorney General's Office will ask an appeals court to reconsider its decision to throw out a teenager's murder conviction and life sentence for the slaying of his 6-year-old playmate.

The move by Attorney General Charlie Crist's office comes as Lionel Tate, 16, considers whether to accept a plea deal offered by Broward County prosecutors last week that could free him early next year.

Crist spokeswoman Joann Carrin said Sunday that her office would file a motion today with the 4th District Court of Appeal, which overturned the conviction and sentence earlier this month.

Today is the deadline to respond to the unanimous decision by a three-judge panel.

Tate was convicted of first-degree murder for killing Tiffany Eunick in July 1999 at his mother's Pembroke Park apartment when he was 12.

He is serving life without parole at a maximum-security juvenile prison.

The appeals court said his mental competency should have been evaluated before his trial.

Tate's lawyers had argued that he was too immature to understand what was at stake during the trial.

A draft of the motion from Crist's office argued that the trial court had enough information to determine Tate's competency in pretrial hearings.

"There were hundreds of hours of evaluation time by professionals, and no one raised any concerns," Carrin said. "The judge had observed Tate over the course of one year, and nothing about Tate's behavior triggered a competency hearing."

The draft also argued that the appeals court decision would require all young defendants to receive a competency hearing just because of their age. Carrin said Crist's office doesn't agree with that because it sets a new standard for the state.

Broward County prosecutors offered Tate a deal Friday that would allow him to plead guilty to second-degree murder and serve only the remaining three months of a three-year prison sentence, followed by house arrest and probation. It is identical to one Tate and his mother declined before his trial.

Rosenbaum said Tate will decide within the next two weeks, and this time the choice is "pretty obvious."

"I can't tell you what he's telling me," Rosenbaum said. "He's making good choices. He's following my advice."

[Last modified December 29, 2003, 01:01:24]

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