Juvenile offenders like Lionel Tate, who is expected to be freed from prison after serving three years for the murder of a 6-year-old playmate, would be kept behind bars for at least eight years under a proposal by Florida Senator Steve Geller, says The Orlando Sentinel. He believes child murderers should spend time behind bars but also need a chance for parole, especially if they have committed no other violent crimes.
Tate, 12 when he murdered Tiffany Eunick while trying professional wrestling moves, was sentenced to life without parole. His first-degree murder conviction was overturned in December by an appeals court, citing his “extremely young age,” immaturity and lack of criminal record. “We need to understand that children are not just short adults,” said Geller. “We need to understand the worldwide outrage that occurred when a 12-year-old child, who had the intellect probably of a 9- or 10-year-old, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.” When Tate became the youngest defendant in the country to be sentenced to life without parole, Geller said the state’s juvenile-justice system “eluded common sense.” He called his proposal a middle ground.
Under Geller’s bill, children under 16 convicted of a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment with no previous felony convictions would go to a juvenile-offender facility for eight years and then would be eligible for parole.
Florida law gives prosecutors two choices when dealing with children charged with major crimes: prosecute them as juveniles or adults. If convicted as juveniles, they can be on the street at 18. If convicted as an adult of first-degree murder, they must serve life without parole.
Attorney General Charlie Crist said cases should be individually reviewed. “I truly believe that whether somebody is 40 or 14, if they commit a murder, there ought to be a consequence and it ought to be significant, but you shouldn’t paint a broad brush with any of those serious cases like that,” he said.