Lionel Alexander Tate (born January 30, 1987) is the youngest American citizen ever sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. In January 2001, when Tate was 12, he was convicted of first-degree murder for the 1999 battering death of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in Broward County, Florida.

The murder

Tate was left alone with Eunick, who was being babysat by Tate’s mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate. While the children were downstairs playing, Tate’s mother called to them to be quiet. Tate came up 45 minutes later to say that Eunick was not breathing. He stated that they were wrestling, he had her in a head lock and slammed the child’s head into the table.

Conviction

Tate was convicted of killing Eunick by stomping on her so forcefully that her liver was lacerated. Her other injuries included a fractured skull, fractured rib and swollen brain. These injuries were characterized by the prosecution as “similar to those she would have sustained by falling from a three-story building.” In sentencing Tate to life imprisonment, Judge Joel T. Lazarus of Broward County Circuit Court said that “The acts of Lionel Tate were not the playful acts of a child The acts of Lionel Tate were cold, callous and indescribably cruel.”

The sentence and the controversy

The sentence was controversial because Tate was 12 years old at the time of the death, and his victim was 6. He was the youngest person in modern US history to be sentenced to life imprisonment, bringing broad criticism on the treatment of juvenile offenders in the justice system of the State of Florida.

Tate’s mother, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, and the defense had turned down a plea bargain arrangement which would have allowed Tate to serve a three-year term for second-degree murder in a youth facility followed by 10 years probation but instead, his mother insisted on going to trial in hopes of an acquittal.

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