Monday, April 16, 2007

Lionel Tate Faces Robbery Trial

Lionel Tate Faces Robbery Trial

Associated Press Writer

Just like when he killed a little girl eight years ago when he was 12 years old, Lionel Tate wants a trial — even though his lawyers have told him it's a bad idea.

A conviction could add significant time to the 30-year sentence he is serving for violating the probation he received for murdering 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in 1999. Tate's trial on charges that he robbed a pizza delivery man at gunpoint in May 2005 was scheduled to start Monday.

Lionel Tate, 18, of Pembroke Park, Fla., is seen in this booking photo supplied by the Broward Sheriff's Office on May 23, 2005, after Tate was arrested on charges of pulling a gun on a pizza delivery person. Tate was once the youngest person sentenced to life in prison in modern U.S. history for killing a young acquaintance, but he got a reprieve in the form of probation after his first conviction and sentence were thrown out. Tate could not stay out of trouble with the law. First, he was caught with a knife late at night by police. Then last May Tate was arrested on charges of robbing a Domino's Pizza delivery man at gunpoint. Tate's trial on charges that he robbed a pizza delivery man is scheduled to start Monday, April 16, 2007. (AP Photo/Broward Sheriffs Office, File)

When charged in Tiffany's death, Tate rejected a plea deal that would have gotten him a three-year sentence and mental health treatment. He became the youngest person in modern U.S. history to receive a life sentence, until an appeals court intervened.

In the robbery case, he backed out of a plea deal that would have given him no more than 30 years total for robbery and gun possession.

"There's certainly quite a risk involved. Lionel could get life in prison or a consecutive sentence, even though I don't think that would be fair," said his attorney, Jim Lewis. He has filed a motion to have Tate's current sentence vacated on the grounds that one of his former attorneys was incompetent.

That attorney, Ellis Rubin, was one of South Florida's best-known lawyers before his death in December.

Lewis, who also represented Tate at his 2001 murder trial, initially claimed his client killed Tiffany accidentally while imitating professional wrestling moves he had seen on TV.

Tate's first-degree murder conviction was overturned in 2004 after an appeals court panel found it wasn't clear whether Tate had understood the charges against him. He was then freed from prison under a deal in which he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to time served and 10 years' probation.

He has since had numerous encounters with police and been through a string of attorneys.

A judge sentenced Tate to an additional five years' probation for possessing a knife in 2004 after he was found walking the streets as a hurricane bore down on South Florida. A year later he was arrested on the robbery charge.

According to authorities, a 12-year-old neighbor said he allowed Tate, then 18, to use the telephone in his apartment to call for a pizza delivery. Tate then left, returning a short time later and forcing his way inside.

The delivery man, Walter E. Gallardo, told police the door was open when he arrived at the apartment with the order. As he entered, he said, he saw someone with a gun.

Gallardo told detectives he "threw the pizzas and fled out the door," was chased by the gunman. The delivery man returned to the apartment complex with sheriff's deputies, saw Tate and identified him as the suspect, police said. No gun was recovered.

The neighbor also identified the suspect as Tate. Tate was arrested and later pleaded guilty to robbery and gun possession in return for a sentence of between 10 and 30 years. He withdrew the plea in the robbery but was sentenced to 30 years on the gun charge.

While in custody, he was charged with criminal mischief for an altercation in jail.

Last year, Circuit Judge Joel T. Lazarus ruled for the second time that Tate was competent to face the robbery charge after Tate claimed he was mentally ill from years of abuse by his mother. He claimed he was hearing voices and contemplating suicide, a story he later admitted was a ruse.

Lewis has filed a change of venue motion, saying it will be difficult to find a Broward County jury that hasn't heard about the case because of the media coverage.

A spokeswoman from prosecutor Chuck Morton's office declined comment.

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