Posted March 1, 2006 – The teen who became the youngest person in U.S. history to get a life sentence could spend the next 30 years behind bars after pleading guilty to robbing a pizza delivery man last spring.
Standing before a Broward County judge in Florida Wednesday, Lionel Tate said, "Yes, sir," when asked if he was pleading guilty to holding up the delivery man with a gun.
Tate also admitted he had violated his probation in the 1999 killing of his childhood playmate by possessing a gun during the May 23 robbery.
The 19-year-old is scheduled to be sentenced April 3, and could receive between 10 and 30 years in prison.
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Tate’s plea Wednesday is just the latest chapter in his ongoing troubles.
When he was 12 years old, Tate was convicted of beating 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick to death. He had argued that the death was accidental and occurred while he was imitating pro wrestlers on TV.
At age 14, in 2001, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without possibility of parole. The outcry from children's advocates and Black leaders was loud, They argued that such a permanent punishment was cruel, racially motivated and left no incentive for rehabilitation, particularly for such a young offender.
Three years later, that conviction was overturned by an appeals court on the grounds that he had not been given a mental competency hearing before or during his trial. Tate pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and the state decided not to retry him.
Several days before his 17th birthday, Tate was released with 10 years probation, a year of house arrest and was required to wear an electronic monitoring device.
But Tate couldn’t stay out of trouble.
Last year, he was suspected of stealing a gun from his mother, Florida Highway Patrol trooper Kathleen Grossett-Tate.
In September 2004, he was arrested for carrying a knife with a four-inch blade, and a judge extended his probation to 15 years, with a warning that another violation would land him in jail.
Tate’s plea on Wednesday could possibly spare him another life sentence.
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