Florida Republican lawmakers engineered the defeat of a bill yesterday that would have given juveniles sentenced to life in prison a “possibility for redemption,” even though Gov. Jeb Bush favored it, the Miami Herald reports.
The bill was inspired by Lionel Tate, believed the youngest American given a life sentence. He was 12 when he killed 6-year-old playmate Tiffany Eunick in his mother’s home. After an appeals court overturned the guilty verdict, a plea deal freed Tate from prison after serving three years.
The measure could have affected Miami teen Michael Hernandez, charged with slitting the throat of classmate Jaime Gough in February. If convicted of first-degree murder, the 14-year-old would face a mandatory life sentence.
Sponsor Steve Geller told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, “When a 12-year-old commits a crime, no matter how terrible that is, there is a possibility for redemption. If you’re a gang banger with a record as long as my arm, this doesn’t apply. This bill only applies to good kids that commit a completely unexpected act.”
Sen. Victor Crist, who has built a career pushing tough-on-crime laws, recalled laws sending juvenile crimes to adult courts in response to shocking murders of tourists by teen killers in the 1990s. He also described, with horrific detail, the murder of a 65-year-old woman in her home by a 14-year-old now in prison. “These are people from the very beginning who have that mean, evil, violent seed in them,” Crist said. “You take a person’s life, you have to sacrifice your own.” Though Tiffany Eunick’s mother agreed to the deal that set Tate free, Crist asked: “Did anyone ask Tiffany? Was she forgiving? We can’t ask Tiffany. She’s dead.”