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Teen accepts, signs bargain

Lionel Tate agrees to plead to second-degree murder, but his mother would have preferred a manslaughter charge.

By Associated Press
Published January 5, 2004

[Last modified January 5, 2004, 01:45:54]

MIAMI - A Florida teenager seeking his release from prison signed documents Sunday in which he agreed to plead to second-degree murder for the death of a 6-year-old playmate.

Lionel Tate, who turns 17 on Jan. 30, signed the papers about 3 p.m. at a maximum security juvenile prison in Okeechobee, where he has been held for the 1999 death of Tiffany Eunick. Tate was 12 when he punched, kicked and stomped the 48-pound girl to death.

His murder conviction and life sentence were overturned last month, and prosecutors offered the same plea deal Tate and his mother declined before trial. In the deal, Tate will be sentenced to three years in prison - most of which he has already served - plus one year of house arrest and 10 years' probation.

"Just knowing it's all been signed, I'm very happy for him that he and his mom are on the same wavelength and moving forward," said Richard Rosenbaum, the teen's attorney.

A judge still has to ratify the plea deal, a process which could take a few weeks, Rosenbaum said.

No hearings have been scheduled, and a judge may still order Tate's competency to be tested, Rosenbaum said. In throwing out the conviction and sentence last month, a state appellate court said Tate's mental competency should have been examined before trial.

Rosenbaum said he expects Tate to get credit for two months spent in county jail before his sentencing, making him eligible for release at the end of the month.

The teen's mother, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Kathleen Grossett-Tate, said she would have preferred her son to plead guilty to manslaughter instead of murder, since she and her son contend Eunick's death was accidental.

Grossett-Tate said the signing brought her "a sigh of relief."

"It's about time he comes home," she told reporters outside the jail Sunday afternoon after the signing.

She said the decision to accept the plea deal she and her son rejected three years ago was a difficult one.

"He did not receive a fair trial the first time," Grossett-Tate said. "For us to go back to trial again, I know he would not get a fair trial."

A message left for Ken Padowitz, who prosecuted Tate and now represents Eunick's mother, Deweese Eunick-Paul, in private practice, was not returned Sunday.

Before the signing, Padowitz said Eunick-Paul was pleased that Tate was accepting responsibility for the murder for the first time.

Tate was 14 when he was sentenced to life without parole. Special prosecutors appointed nearly two years ago cleared Grossett-Tate of any wrongdoing in Eunick's death. Grossett-Tate was babysitting the girl in her Pembroke Park home at the time of her death.

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