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Tate lawyer questions witnesses

By Associated Press
Published May 26, 2005

FORT LAUDERDALE - A lawyer for Lionel Tate said at a court hearing Wednesday that the pizza delivery man Tate is accused of robbing at gunpoint Monday described his assailant as wearing "totally different" clothes than those worn by Tate, who was once the youngest person sentenced to life in prison in modern U.S. history.

Tate, 18, faces a long prison sentence if a judge finds that he violated probation given after his release for the 1999 killing of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick.

Tate is charged with armed robbery and armed burglary with battery in the pizza incident, which occurred at a friend's apartment across the street from his own.

"I think there's been a mistake made," attorney James Lewis said. "I think there's been a rush to judgment."

Broward County Judge Jerry Pollock ordered Tate held without bond pending a hearing on whether he violated terms of his probation.

Police have not found the weapon allegedly used in the robbery, but the Broward County Sheriff's Office said a search of Tate's home revealed that three handguns - including a .357-caliber revolver - are missing. The pizza delivery man, Walter E. Gallardo, told police the robber used a revolver in the crime.

Tate's mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, is a Florida Highway Patrol trooper.

Lewis said "it makes absolutely no sense" that Tate and his friends would be discovered by police calmly eating the pizza at the apartment complex where the crime occurred. One of those friends, a 12-year-old boy who lives in the apartment where the robbery happened, told officers that Tate pulled the stickup after forcing his way inside, according to a police report.

Tate's supporters have suggested he was framed for the crime because of his notoriety.

In 2001, Tate was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Tiffany. The conviction and sentence were overturned on appeal in 2004, leading to a plea deal under which Tate was permitted to go free on probation.

Whether there was a probation violation will be determined by Judge Joel Lazarus, who presided over his original trial and imposed the life sentence.

After Tate was caught with a pocketknife last September, Lazarus warned him that he could be returned to prison if such an incident occurred again. Lazarus then added five years to Tate's original 11-year probation period.

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