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Mom: Boy Didn’t Know About Sentence

March 3, 2001

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ A state trooper testified Friday that she never told her 14-year-old son he faced a life sentence for killing a 6-year-old while imitating pro wrestling because she didn’t realize it herself.

Florida Highway Patrolwoman Kathleen Grossett-Tate said the state’s mandatory life sentence for first-degree murder never really dawned on her until her son, Lionel Tate, was convicted Jan. 25 of murdering Tiffany Eunick.

``I didn’t think it would go this far,″ Grossett-Tate said. ``How can you tell a child he could go to prison for the rest of his life for playing?″

The boy’s attorneys wants County Judge Joel Lazarus to overturn the conviction or, at least, reduce it from first-degree murder when he is sentenced March 9.

At trial, the defense had argued that Lionel, then 12, was imitating professional wrestling moves he had seen on TV when he accidentally killed Tiffany in July 1999.

The prosecution contended that Lionel intentionally beat Tiffany while his mother baby-sat the girl, who suffered more than 30 injuries, including a lacerated liver and a skull fracture.

Prosecutor Ken Padowitz said Friday he wanted the judge to uphold Lionel’s conviction but said he would ask Gov. Jeb Bush to commute the boy’s sentence.

He said that before trial Lionel and his mother rejected a plea bargain of three years in a juvenile prison, a year of house arrest and 10 years of probation and counseling.

Mark James, Tiffany’s father, asked the judge to uphold the conviction and impose a life sentence.

``Lionel Tate is not a victim _ my daughter is the victim,″ he said.

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