What We Know About Lionel Tate, The Youngest Person To Ever Receive A Life Sentence

On July 28, 1999, Kathleen Grossett-Tate was babysitting 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in her Pembroke Park, Florida, home. Later that evening, Grossett-Tate went upstairs for a nap and left Eunick in the care of her 12-year-old son Lionel Tate. Grossett-Tate said the children were watching television when she went upstairs.

As reported by Sun Sentinel, Grossett-Tate was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, and had worked late the prior evening. As she was still tired, she made sure the children had dinner then planned to take a short nap.

Shortly after laying down, Grossett-Tate said she could hear the children running up and down the stairs. Although she asked them to be quiet, they continued running around and making noise. At some point, Lionel blamed Eunick for making the noise, prompting Grossett-Tate to yell downstairs that she would "beat her butt" if she did not settle down and be quiet.

According to Sun Sentinel, Grossett-Tate said she heard an unusual noise, which sounded like someone was in distress. When she asked Lionel what was wrong, he said Eunick was laying on the floor and moaning. As she assumed the girl was simply having a nightmare, Grossett-Tate went back to bed.

Tiffany Eunick died of severe injuries

Minutes later, Lionel Tate ran upstairs to tell his mother Tiffany Eunick was not breathing. Sun Sentinel reports Grossett-Tate ran downstairs immediately and found Eunick unresponsive and cold to the touch. She also said the little girl had clearly been vomiting.

Grossett-Tate said she attempted to wake Eunick up, and eventually called 911. However, it was simply too late. Although Eunick was transported to a hospital, she was pronounced dead upon arrival. As reported by Sun Sentinel, Grossett-Tate said she did not initially realize Eunick was injured and was concerned she got sick after eating the food she served her. However, it was eventually evident that the 6-year-old girl died of physical injuries.

According to ABC News, an autopsy revealed Eunick had multiple injuries, including a fractured skull, a broken rib, a laceration on her liver, internal hemorrhaging, and multiple cuts and bruises. As reported by Tampa Bay Times, it was determined that Eunick was beaten for as long as five minutes before she was fatally injured.

Lionel Tate said he accidentally killed Tiffany Eunick while practicing wrestling moves

Sun Sentinel reports Grossett-Tate insisted she was not aware Tiffany Eunick was injured until authorities began questioning her son about the wounds. According to Tampa Bay Times, Lionel Tate initially said he was trying out professional wrestling moves, which he saw on television, on the little girl. However, he insisted he did not intend to kill her. He later admitted he jumped from the staircase and the injuries were inflicted when he landed on the 6-year-old girl.

On August 11, 1999, a grand jury indicted Tate on a charge of first-degree murder. They also determined he would be charged as an adult. Six months later, prior to the beginning of Tate's trial, Prosecutor Ken Padowitz offered Tate a plea agreement, in which he would plead guilty to second-degree murder. In exchange for the guilty plea, Sun Sentinel reports Tate would be sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention facility followed by one year of house arrest.

Although the plea deal would have spared Tate from being tried as an adult, and the possibility of a life sentence, his attorney, Jim Lewis, rejected the offer on his client's behalf, as he was confident Eunick's death would be proven to be accidental.

Lionel Tate was convicted of murder and sentenced to life

Although Lionel Tate's attorney argued that Tiffany Eunick's death was accidental, and happened while Tate was imitating professional wrestlers he watched on television, Sun Sentinel reports he was ultimately found guilty of first-degree murder and was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. At the time he was sentenced, Tate was 14 years old. According to CBS News, Tate became the youngest person in U.S. history to be sentenced to life in prison.

As reported by ABC News, prosecutors said Eunick's injuries were far too extensive to have occurred during the scenario presented by the defense. Tate's attorney said evidence, which would have underlined the degree of Tate's obsession with professional wrestling, was not allowed during the trial. He believes the omission of the evidence was detrimental to his client's defense.

According to Tampa Bay Times, Tate spent only three days in an adult prison before he was transferred to a juvenile detention facility. In the meantime, his defense team filed a motion for a new trial, based on an insufficient assessment of Tate's mental health prior to his trial.

Lionel Tate accepted a plea agreement during his second trial and was released

On December 10, 2003, Florida's 4th District Court of Appeals approved Lionel Tate's motion for a new trial. Less than one month later, Tate accepted a plea agreement, in which he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of three years in prison with credit for time served. As reported by Tampa Bay Times, the deal also included one year of house arrest and 10 years of probation following his release.

Tate was released from prison on January 26, 2004. However, Tampa Bay Times reports he was arrested in September of that year for possession of a pocket knife, which was a violation of his probation. Although he was not sent back to prison, Tate had five years added to his probation and was warned that he would be jailed if he violated his probation again. Then in May of 2005, he was arrested and charged in another serious crime.

Lionel Tate was convicted of violating his probation and armed robbery

On May 23, 2005, Tate was arrested and charged with armed burglary, armed robbery, and battery. He was also charged with violating his probation. As reported by CBS News, Tate was accused of robbing a pizza delivery man with a gun.

NBC News reports Lionel Tate pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and therefore violating his probation. He was ultimately sentenced to 30 years in prison for that charge. He later pleaded no contest to charges related to the armed robbery and was sentenced to 10 more years, which are to be served concurrently with the 30-year sentence.

Tate is currently being housed at Florida's South Bay Correctional Facility. As reported by the Florida Department of Corrections, he will not be eligible for release until January 18, 2031. At that time, Tate will be 42 years old.