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Murderous Children: Lionel Tate (12) Killed a 6-Year-Old Girl

Updated on June 8, 2016
12-year-old Lionel Tate.
12-year-old Lionel Tate.
His victim, 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick.
His victim, 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick.

The Youngest Person in America Ever Sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole

In 2001, a then 14-year-old Lionel Tate was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the death of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick that had occurred two years prior. He was the youngest person the United States to ever be given that sentence. That's not where this story ends, but let's go back to where it began.

It all started on July 28th, 1999, in Pembroke Park, Florida, when Lionel's mother, Kathleen, was asked to watch 6-year-old Tiffany for the evening. Kathleen and Tiffany's mother had grown up together in Jamaica. Lionel Tate was only 12 years old at the time.  After dinner, the children were watching TV, and Kathleen decided to go upstairs for the evening. She yelled downstairs for them to quiet down at about 10pm, but did not check on them at that time.

It was around 40 minutes later, at approximately 10:40pm when Lionel Tate went upstairs to get his mother, and told her that little Tiffany Eunick was not breathing.

Police file photo of Lionel Tate.
Police file photo of Lionel Tate.

What Happened & Why? Was it a Brutal Beating, or a Child Imitating Wrestling Moves They Saw on TV?

170 lb. Lionel Tate claims he was simply wrestling with 48 lb. Tiffany before she stopped breathing. He told his mother he had her in a headlock when she smashed her head on the side of a table. He then described her as rolling around on the floor, crying, acting like a baby, and urinating in her pants. He decided to go back to watching TV. When Lionel finally went to get his mother to tell her that the little girl was not breathing, her broken little body was already cold.

A third of his size, Tiffany would have been no match for Lionel, play-fighting or not. The question is, was Lionel simply a violent child that had attacked the little girl, or was he just a kid who had tried to imitate the wrestling moves he saw on TV, without realizing how dangerous they were?

Some experts say no, there is absolutely no way that this was simply a kid imitating some wrestling moves. This was an absolutely brutal beating, one that left poor Tiffany with 35 injuries. Tiffany had a cracked skull, a broken rib, a lacerated liver, hemorrhaged kidneys, bleeding in her brain, and dozens of bruises on her little body. This was a brutal beating that lasted for approximately five minutes and was equal in force to a fall from a 3-story building, a child abuse expert would later testify.

Why did this happen? Was this preventable? Were there warning signs? Lionel Tate had a previous history of trouble. Described as an intelligent boy of average IQ with street smarts, this was not the first time that Lionel had shown a problem with violence. Prior to the murder, he had been suspended from school 15 times. He had also exhibited other behavioral problems, including stealing, lying, and fighting. Does part of the blame then fall on his mother for ignoring her son's previous behavior, and leaving him alone with a 6-year-old child?

14-year-old Lionel Tate during the trial.
14-year-old Lionel Tate during the trial.

News Report About the Call for Leniecy After Lionel's Sentencing

Larry King Live on Appealing for Clemency in the Lionel Tate Case

A mugshot photo of an older Lionel Tate, who couldn't seem to stay out of trouble after being released from prison.
A mugshot photo of an older Lionel Tate, who couldn't seem to stay out of trouble after being released from prison.

The Trial, Verdict, Sentencing & Aftermath

In 2001, Lionel Tate went on trial for Tiffany Eunick's death. It was determined that he would be tried as an adult for first-degree murder. The prosecution did not believe that there was intent or premeditation in Tiffany's murder, but the case still fell under felony murder, because it was the result of aggravated child abuse.

The prosecution offered Tate a plea deal to the lesser charge of 2nd degree murder, for which he would serve a 3 year prison term. Tate and his mother Kathleen turned down the deal, and instead chose to plead innocent to first-degree murder, in hopes of getting an acquittal. The defense argued that the death was completely accidental, and that Lionel was just imitating wrestling moves he had seen on TV.

It took the jury two weeks of deliberation to come back with the verdict: guilty of first-degree felony murder. The crime carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without a chance of parole. Tears rolled down Lionel's cheek as he was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom after his sentence was handed down.

After his conviction, many people took up the cause of pleading for leniency in sentencing on Lionel Tate's behalf, including the lawyers who prosecuted him in court. The judge told the prosecution that if they did not believe he should receive a harsh sentence, they should never have charged him with first-degree murder.

Lionel Tate would get a second chance though. In 2003, an appeals court threw out his conviction on the basis that he wasn't given a mental competency hearing prior to his trial. Tate then pleaded guilty to 2nd degree murder, and the state chose not to retry him, but rather gave him the deal he had turned down three years prior. He was credited for the three years already served in a juvenile facility, which was to be followed by a year of house arrest, 10 years probation, 1000 hours of community service, and mandatory counseling. In January of 2004, Lionel walked out jail a free man, aside from a monitoring device attached to his ankle.

Unfortunately, Lionel would not make the most of his 2nd chance. In September of 2004, Lionel was discovered outside his home by police with a knife, which was a violation of his parole. The judge extended his probation to 15 years, and told him that if he was caught in violation again, he would go back to prison.

It wasn't long before Tate would again be trouble, in May of 2005, when he was charged with armed robbery, armed burglary with battery, and violating his parole in connection the robbery of a pizza man at gunpoint. The pizza man identified Lionel Tate as the one who had pointed a gun at him.

Tate claimed to the judge he was hearing voices, and wanted to kill himself, and a psychiatric evaluation was ordered. In the end, he was found competent to stand trial. In May of 2006, he pled guilty to gun possession which violated his probation, and was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. The judge was somber when he said "In plain English, Lionel Tate, you have run out of second chances" before he laid down his sentence. In February of 2008, he pled no contest to the robbery charge, and was sentenced to 10 years, to be served concurrently with his 30 year sentence.

Tate is currently in prison serving his time, but is now proclaiming his innocence in the pizza robbery case. Tate claims that it was possibly another man who committed the crime, a friend of his who made a statement to police that he had seen Tate commit the robbery.

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    • profile image

      Miss Adult 4 weeks ago

      Yes, both Parents lost n child, although one can go visit, but its not the same. If the state saw that he had n trouble past n school etc, something should have been done. I fought for my son, I begg n cry out for help, I was ignore, they would rather lock my son up than give him help. I got everybody n anybody to see, medicine was given that made him worse, cause when he don't take it, hell all over again. The State has their eyes open but don't really care, the help came for him, but it was too late, suicide happen.

    • profile image

      Syl King 7 weeks ago

      His mom must Be very Yong to, maybe getting high upstairs, but whatever, he was still old enough to know harm and danger. When I was that age, I knew better, Then him still getting in more trouble, man. HE should get 20 years straight now.

    • profile image

      Buttermilkmilk 3 months ago

      It's crazy about how many chances Lionel Tate got before he got a severe sentence.

    • profile image

      Emmy Chen 3 months ago

      How long will Lionel Tate be in prison now?

    • profile image

      CEP 1987 4 months ago

      Our children suffer the consequences of parents neglect and unsupervised care. Also God's teachings has been taken out of the equation of Scriptural & Biblical teachings,truth and guidance. What was done to Tiffany, because of a troubled misguided boy should be an awareness of our children in trouble.

    • profile image

      Andrew 5 months ago

      Burn in hell Lionel Tate.

    • profile image

      Brenda 6 months ago

      His mom should been charged as well for neglect

    • profile image

      Julia 6 months ago

      Definetly guilty !!! 170 pound kill a 6 year old he should be in jail no he does not deserve mercy, sad rthat the mother was aware of his past violence and dint do anything about it , she could had prevented the killing of this inocent 6 year old little girl, and both mothers will have to live with guilt the rest of their lives,

    • profile image

      Denbigh Coleman 9 months ago

      I thought at first it was unfair the way he was treated, but after reading the full story I don't feel any sympathy for him.

    • profile image

      Lee 14 months ago

      I have no sympathy for him. At first I did but when he got released and committed a crime that went out the window. He's a menace to society and I'm glad he's in prison.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 2 years ago

      I truly admire your creativity for coming up with the topic of this hub, and of the many other ones in this series that you've been made. It's a sad thing that things like this happen to our children.

    • Alexis Cogwell profile image

      Ashley Cogdill 2 years ago from Indiana/Chicagoland

      Sad to see. I'm not sure about the wrestling though. He seems to have a violent past and should have never been left alone in the room with her. Did anything happen to the mother for neglect?

    • profile image

      VERA GOODWIN 2 years ago

      He was a bulley and he got what he deserved. Hes mindless mother should have got jail time too!!!! He has mental issue he's back in jail again. Dangerous beware!!!!

    • profile image

      Beverly Mosher 2 years ago

      That kid was a kid with so many problems but none the less he was a bully. I don't feel remorse for him that he picked on a child 2 times smaller than him or that he was 2 times older than that poor baby. Bullying should be stopped. What if she had survived I wonder if she would have start bullying someone her size or someone smaller than her. And him if he'd got away with mistreating her how many countless times that he done it. And to how many poor babies that child would have victimized before he really would have found himself in his home, (Prison).

    • profile image

      lionel tate 2 years ago

      haha

    • profile image

      josh 3 years ago

      shawn, he may be a killer but he was only 12 years old but his mom should have paid attention to the children so it is partially her fault and because of that we have a dead child and a young killer

    • profile image

      page 3 years ago

      To be real if it was mine baby i probably would have killed him in his mom that my baby

    • profile image

      trey 3 years ago

      he deserves 20

    • profile image

      Shawn 3 years ago

      Lionel Tata should have got death he know he killed tiffany that sweet child and the mother should got the death to she know what her son did she is not a mother but a dog now lionel is in prison I hope he never get out real talk my heart go out to tiffany family god bless you!

    • profile image

      ivy 3 years ago

      He was given two chances...he blew it and now he suffers the consequences...Im sure he was given plenty of counseling in juvenile detention....He is a menace and killers move on to commit more crimes....I have yet to see a killer be turned around.....do the research.....confinement is the best thing or more Tiffanies will be uncovered.....

    • profile image

      Pam 3 years ago

      Watched the LMN show about him when Al Sharpton and the rest were rooting for him BUT in my heart I knew he was a killer the child was much smaller and a girl so to me he was a little punk, didn't beleive the wrestling move crap and see I was right he committed yet 2 more crimes. Some people you just can't save.

    • profile image

      danielle 3 years ago

      I agree with Kevin and some of the comments he needed help but I also say amen to the little girls momma for forgiving him for killing her little girl I do believe in forgiveness no matter how bad situation amen

    • profile image

      kevin 3 years ago

      Tastes mom should have been held accountable she was supposed to be babysitting her friends kid and u don't go to bed while doing so if she had been up and doing so child would still be alive

    • profile image

      brianna 4 years ago

      This stuff is so sad!I am 10 and watch wwe.I can't imagine how tiffany felt.

    • profile image

      crystal 5 years ago

      that is terrirying

    • profile image

      gloria estrada 6 years ago

      hes guilty

    • Antonia Monacelli profile image
      Author

      Antonia Monacelli 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I agree that a lot of people who become criminals; especially those who commit crimes as a child, usually had difficult childhoods. As you said, they often have no parents, or parents with emotional and mental problems, they are also often abused physically, sexually, and/or emotionally a lot. They are often raised in poverty, in areas where crime is a way of life for many of the adults.

      That being said, there is nothing to indicate that Lionel Tate was subject to such dire circumstances in his life. He had already shown behavioral issues, and despite the fact that they could be indicative of trauma or difficulties in his life, there is nothing that really points one way or the other. The other way being that yes, sometimes children are just born with mental or emotional difficulties, or develop them despite a "normal" childhood. If anything, the fact that he claimed later on in life to be hearing voices would lean more towards it being a mental problem he suffered from.

      I do not think he should have been locked up for life in prison the first place, what he really needed was help. The problem is that society needs to be feel as though they are protected, and the government feels pressure to do so, and that usually means prison. He was given a second chance when he was released, but he continued to end up in criminal situations. I don't think 30 years in prison are going to help him, or society really, but at some point, he had to be held accountable, regardless of where his criminal behavior stems from.

    • profile image

      spring1802 6 years ago

      As a probation officer I knew children who robbed,raped, and killed. I always saw a child not a criminal despite what they had done.They were mostly threw away and could not tell you why they did what they did. They all had been neglected,abused,or just there -wrong place&time.They had no parent or ones with emotional and mental problems. Locking them up for life says this society did not care and never will.

    • Antonia Monacelli profile image
      Author

      Antonia Monacelli 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you for your comment.

      Yes, I think it's sad when parents don't monitor what their kids are watching. Parents really need to be aware of what their children see on TV, and explain to them that the things that happen on TV aren't real, and that they should never try to imitate anything they see on TV; whether it is wrestling, or stunts from shows like Jackass, or pranks they see on comedy shows.

    • The Pink Panther profile image

      The Pink Panther 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      That's a horrible story.

      Little kids shouldn't be allowed to be exposed things like professional wrestling because they just can't comprehend that it's choreographed and that they shouldn't imitate it.

      Coupled with a naturally violent disposition, tragedies like this can seem inevitable.

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