Attorney: Boy now says Tate not robber

Associated Press
Published June 23, 2005

FORT LAUDERDALE - A 13-year-old boy has recanted his statement to police that Lionel Tate, once the youngest American in modern history sentenced to life in prison, robbed a pizza delivery man at gunpoint, Tate's attorney said Wednesday.

The boy, Taquincy Tomkins, now says a 16-year-old identified only as "Willie" committed the crime and that he initially pointed to Tate out of fear of retribution and because of intense police pressure.

Attorney James Lewis said Broward County sheriff's investigators "targeted Lionel Tate from the very beginning and tried to make the pieces fit. We think we have now cracked this case."

A judge has scheduled a hearing today on whether Tate, 18, should be released on bail. The criminal charges could mean Tate violated his probation - and result in a possible life prison sentence - stemming from his conviction in the 1999 killing of family friend Tiffany Eunick, 6.

Tate, who was 12 when the girl was killed, made headlines around the world when he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. But in 2004 the conviction was overturned on appeal, leading to a plea deal. Tate was granted probation.

Broward sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal said new physical evidence linking Tate to the May 23 crime will be presented at today's hearing.

"We are confident in our case and we believe that Lionel Tate was responsible for the armed robbery," Leljedal said.

Private investigator Joe Carrillo said he interviewed Tomkins and his mother, Kenya Miller, for several hours Sunday at their apartment in Pembroke Park where the crime occurred. According to a transcript provided by Lewis, Tomkins said his sworn, videotaped statement to police blaming Tate in the robbery was incorrect.

"I said that it was Lionel that did it ... 'cause Willie had said that he was going to kill me," the transcript says Tomkins said.

The boy said investigators were "threatening me," asking, "Was it Lionel? Was it Lionel?" and telling him if he wasn't honest, "I would be in jail and I can't see my family for the rest of my life."

Lewis would not further identify "Willie," other than to say he lived in the same apartment complex where the crime occurred and moved out three days later. Carrillo said he has spoken with Willie and if he could find him, so could detectives.

In both statements, Tomkins said Tate used the telephone in his apartment to order four pies from Domino's Pizza. In his new statement, the boy said it was Willie, and not Tate, who barged through the apartment door and confronted the delivery man with a gun after the pizzas arrived.

The gun used has not been found, but three handguns were missing from the home Tate shared with his mother, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper.