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Florida Court Tosses ‘Wrestling Death’ Conviction


— December 10, 2003

An appeals court Wednesday threw out a boy’s conviction for beating a 6-year-old playmate to death in a case that focused attention on a Florida law that says child murderers must be locked away for the rest of their lives.

The 4th District Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Lionel Tate, 16, saying his mental competency should have been evaluated before his trial. He was tried as an adult and is serving life without parole at a maximum-security juvenile prison.

“Questions regarding Tate’s competency were not lurking subtly in the background, but were readily apparent, as his immaturity and developmental delays were very much at the heart of the defense,” Judge Barry J. Stone wrote.

Tate’s lawyers argued that Tate, then 12, was imitating the pro wrestling moves he saw on television and did not mean to kill Tiffany Eunick. The 48-pound girl was punched, kicked and stomped to death by Tate, who weighed 170 pounds.

The case has raised questions about a controversial Florida law that requires children convicted of first-degree murder to get life in prison without parole. Florida has been widely criticized for using the law to lock up children

The court did not consider the viability of the law itself, the AP report here. I linked a NY Times article about the case last January here.

UPDATE (1/26/04): He’s now free.


An appeals court Wednesday threw out a boy’s conviction for beating a 6-year-old playmate to death in a case that focused attention on a Florida law that says child murderers must be locked away for the rest of their lives.

The 4th District Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Lionel Tate, 16, saying his mental competency should have been evaluated before his trial. He was tried as an adult and is serving life without parole at a maximum-security juvenile prison.

“Questions regarding Tate’s competency were not lurking subtly in the background, but were readily apparent, as his immaturity and developmental delays were very much at the heart of the defense,” Judge Barry J. Stone wrote.

Tate’s lawyers argued that Tate, then 12, was imitating the pro wrestling moves he saw on television and did not mean to kill Tiffany Eunick. The 48-pound girl was punched, kicked and stomped to death by Tate, who weighed 170 pounds.

The case has raised questions about a controversial Florida law that requires children convicted of first-degree murder to get life in prison without parole. Florida has been widely criticized for using the law to lock up children

The court did not consider the viability of the law itself, the AP report here. I linked a NY Times article about the case last January here.

UPDATE (1/26/04): He’s now free.

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