Can Child’s Play Really Result in Murder?
Do you remember Lionel Tate, the 12-year-old Florida boy who killed little 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in Browick County with his “wrestling moves“? The case gained national attention for three reasons: (1) the nature of the crime (2) the sentence in light of the age of the defendant (3) the defence offered for Tate’s actions. Tate’s lawyer, Mr. Lewis, told the jury that Tate was emulating wrestlers when he kicked and body slammed Tiffany in his living room.
Even The World Wrestling Federation took offence to this defence: it issued a statement saying that the defense’s strategy linking the case to professional wrestling was ”a contrived hoax” and were satisfied that the jury saw through it. (It didn ‘t need further negative associations involving murder and wrestling after the Chris Benoit thing, you know.)
The extent of the incident is this: 12 year old Lionel Tate was left alone with 6 year old Tiffany Eunick in his mother’s home while she went upstairs to take a nap. Soon after Tate’s mother went upstairs, Tate, who was three times Eunick’s weight and size, began beating and jumping on Eunick from a stairway. The beating lasted several minutes and the coroner determined the child was conscious and in extreme pain. As for Tate’s mother, Kathleen Grossett-tate, she yelled for the children to be quiet so she could sleep. 45 minutes after Eunick stopped breathing, Tate told his mother that he and Eunick had been playing wrestling together and she stopped breathing. An autopsy revealed Eunick suffered fractured ribs, a fractured skull and a swollen brain. The injuries were characterized as “similar to those she would have sustained by falling from a three-storey building.”
Florida Statutes required the jury to convict Tate of first-degree murder even if he did not intend to kill or injure anyone: all that was required was that Tate knowingly abused another child who died as a result. The rule for such convictions is known as the felony murder rule. Fittingly, Tate was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. Tate was 14 when the sentence was handed down, making him the youngest person in US history to be sentenced to life imprisonment. Grossett-Tate, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, 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. Grossett-Tate, in her delusional perspective about the case, insisted on going to trial in hopes of an acquittal. There are certain psychological characteristics about Grossett-Tate that need be detailed in order to understand her unusual response to the plea bargain: watch 2001-01-25 tateverdict
- For years, Grossett-Tate defended her son to various schools he attended when she was contacted about his misbehaviour and placed on suspensions.
- She often appeared at her son’s schools wearing her Highway Patrol uniform in order to intimidate staff.
- She worked long hours and left Tate perpetually unsupervised.
In January 2004, a state appeals court overturned his conviction on the basis that his mental competency had not been evaluated before trial. Tate accepted the plea deal he turned down, and was released on one year’s house arrest and 10 years’ probation. His mother called the murder a “tragic accident“. Now Tate is serving a 30-year prison sentence for armed robbery. Perhaps that too was a “tragic accident”? Read 14 year old gets life for murder, to be released after 3 years
The major point about the case was does a 12-year-old have enough comprehension and sense of reality to understand that certain types and degrees of physical violence can result in serious injury or death? Children have been assessed by child psychologists and revealed all manner of odd ways of thinking. Between nine to thirteen years most child’s perception of death is nearer to an adult understanding of death. They start to become more aware of the finality of death and the impact death has on them.. watch killer kids talk about their victims without remorse
In New York, in 2011, an 11-year-old girl accidentally shot her 14-year-old sister in the head using her father’s gun, when playing “CSI”. In California, a 10-year-old boy murdered his father, an active member in a Neo-Nazi party. The boy was living in a violent, dysfunctional household that Child Protective Services visited on a regular basis. watch 60 minutes: the murder of an american nazi This is not to suggest that a “tragic accident” was the case with Lionel Tate but I would argue that Grossett-Tate’s careless defence of her son’s wrongdoings for most of his life amounts to negligence in instilling him with a sense of moral values. This doesn’t excuse the murder but it may go a long way toward explaining it. watch 10 year old boy kills neo-nazi father
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