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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Lionel Tate Pleads Guilty to Second Degree Murder

Aired January 29, 2004 - 14:04   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

O'BRIEN: Now the Lionel Tate case. A murder conviction, bail hearing, freedom and a guilty plea. Now those events probably sound wildly out of order but that's the thumbnail history of Lionel Tate, the Florida teen who today is admitting he murdered a 6-year-old playmate in 1999.
The plea has been a done deal for days, if not weeks. But if you've been watching CNN, it's been a highly emotional hearing already. CNN's John Zarrella bringing us up to date from Fort Lauderdale. Hello, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Miles, no question about it. Hugely emotional already. Right now, Richard Rosenbaum, Lionel Tate's attorney just finishing up a statement there. We can see Lionel Tate on the left, Richard Rosenbaum attorney on the left. Rosenbaum basically saying that there is a support group in place that Lionel will have. And we may hear from Lionel right now.

JUDGE JOEL LAZURUS, BROWARD CO. CIRCUIT COURT: Has anybody forced you, pressured you or coerced you to enter this plea?

LIONEL TATE, DEFENDANT: No, sir.

LAZURUS: Are you a United States citizen?

TATE: Yes, sir.

LAZURUS: All the terms and conditions of this plea have been explained to you. Have you had enough time to talk to your attorney, Mr. Rosenbaum, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Anybody else that you needed to talk to about your accepting this plea?

TATE: Yes, sir.

LAZURUS: You understand all the terms and conditions of the plea agreement, including those terms and conditions are probation and community -- community (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and probation. Is that correct?

TATE: Yes, sir.

LAZURUS: You understand that a violation of your community (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and/or probation could subject you to a period of incarceration for up to life imprisonment. You understand that?

TATE: Yes, sir. LAZURUS: At this particular time, pursuant to the stipulation, I am finding a factual basis based on the testimony heard during the course of the trial and I am now accepting this plea of guilty.

You feel it's in your best interest to plead guilty to the charge of murder in the second degree?

TATE: Yes, sir.

LAZURUS: You have 60 -- 30 days in which to appeal the imposition of sentence. If can you not afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

Please be seated. I just have a few closing remarks. Anything else, Mr. Morton (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, just a couple matters, judge. Since the charge has been reduced, he's pleading to the lesser included offense of second degree murder, unlike first degree murder conviction where a punishment...

ZARRELLA: So Lionel Tate will not make a statement today. It was DeWees Eunick, that, of course, Tiffany' Eunick's mother, who came up to the podium there earlier in our last hour and was asking and saying that she had fully expected and hoped that Lionel would publicly apologize. He has not publicly apologized. His attorney in his remarks a few minutes ago stated that Lionel has accepted responsibility by pleading to second degree murder.

But DeWees Eunick had said during her statement basically that she was putting the bulk of the blame for what happened that night in 1999 on Lionel's mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate. That she was upstairs in the bedroom asleep trying to take a nap when the act -- when the incident took place, the 35 bruises to her daughter, the multiple injuries.

So firmly blaming Lionel Tate's mother and not putting all of the blame on Lionel Tate. DeWees Eunick, of course, saying that she was deeply hurt by all of the times that she had seen in recent days both Lionel Tate and his mother celebrating a victory. To her, it was no victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEWEES EUNICK-PAUL, TIFFANY'S MOTHER: I firmly -- I firmly -- I firmly believe in God and I believe in forgiveness. I so much believe in God and forgiveness that I have forgiven you, Lionel. I have forgiven Lionel. And I have forgiven Lionel for brutally murdering my daughter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: Now, Lionel Tate, after he leaves here today, again, no statement. At some point we expect that he will go back into school, not being told what school he will go in. Remember, he is under house arrest for a year. Then ten years of probation. He is wearing an ankle monitoring device that will remain on him for at least the next year while he is under house arrest.

So, Miles, coming to a close finally after three very long, very difficult years for both the victim's family and the family of Lionel Tate. And it does not appear that DeWees Eunick, Tiffany's mother, is going to get that closure that she so dearly hoped for, which was that public administration of responsibility by Lionel Tate -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: I would anticipate it -- I'm sure you could tell us in detail quite a bit of reaction to the fact that he has not made a statement.

ZARRELLA: That's right. And we understand privately that there was a great deal of back and forth on his side as to whether there should and statement by him. Apparently the decision made that it would not be in Lionel's best interest or any of their best interest to try and say anything that would counter that tremendously emotional testimony that we heard from DeWees Eunick.

In fact, what we did not get to hear was some testimony also of Tiffany's father over the phone, Mark James, who basically said, brutally that Lionel Tate is a killer, and that Lionel Tate will kill again.

And this is the judge again with some of his final remarks.

LAZURUS: I'm sure you feel a great weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Last Monday night was the first in almost three years of sleeping in your own bed, turning your lights on and off, moving about with relative freedom, eating what you want, wearing what you feel like.

But a new and different weight has now been placed upon you. For the first time in three years, you have the opportunity to make decisions. You have to follow the rules of society, obviously.

And also the rules explained to you by the department of corrections. You will be under scrutiny for 11 years, a long time for a 17-year-old, perhaps. But this is what you have chosen to accept.

You have agreed to comply by the rules, and you have been fully and totally explained not only what the rules are, but the consequences of not following these rules.

And I am convinced that are you totally understanding of these rules, and are willing to accept them without reservation, freely voluntarily and knowingly. I would not accept this negotiated resolution if I felt are you not totally understanding of your responsibilities.

You have been given the opportunity to find your place as a useful member of society. You will be challenges daily and even more often in the decisions you make will determine your fight. Not only must you say continuously I will succeed, I must succeed, for the consequences of nonsuccess are so substantial that nonsuccess should not be an option. Nonsuccess could result in your incarceration for the rest of your life.

Good luck. So many are sincere in their desire to see you do well. This court is in adjournment. I would ask...

ZARRELLA: Wrapping up now, that Judge Joel Lazarus. Interesting enough for our viewers, he was the judge who sat at trial three years ago, the same judge who after Lionel Tate was convicted of first degree murder, he sentenced him to that life without parole sentence. There was no choice under Florida law. Lionel Tate had to be sentenced to the maximum, life without parole.

We're seeing there DeWees Eunick, tight shot of her there with her attorney.

And again, it's interesting because during this hearing, also there were calls for the Florida law to be changed. That it was not fair that Lionel Tate had to be sentenced by law to life without parole. That the law in Florida needs to be changed to give some latitude to the judges to change that sentence if they do not feel it is warranted to put a young boy or teenager behind bars for the rest of his life or her life without any chance of parole.

Again, gathering there in the courtroom. This, unless, as the judge said, Lionel slips up and ends up back in jail or back in court, this should be the end of this very long, very tragic, very hard wrenching saga of -- and a very difficult situation, Miles, for both Tiffany Eunick's family and of course, Lionel Tate's family -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's John Zarrella in Fort Lauderdale. Lionel Tate walks away free. Tiffany Eunick's family walks away empty-handed.

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