Lionel Tate talks with his mother Kathleen Grossett-Tate at a bond hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 26. Tate, the teen who killed a 6-year-old playmate and became the youngest defendant in the nation to be locked away for life, was ordered released that day after three years behind bars. Circuit Judge Joel Lazarus ordered Tate freed without bail, a month after an appeals court threw out the boy’s conviction because his mental competency was not evaluated before trial.

( – The story of Lionel Tate is so much more than the media headlines of his release from prison and his plea agreement to second-degree murder. It is the story of two mothers who faced great losses with humanity and hope.

Deweese Eunick-Paul lost her 6-year-old daughter, Tiffany, in what the court ruled was murder. Kathleen Grossett-Tate lost her son, Lionel, to the Broward County, Fla., criminal justice system as a convicted murderer.

Yet, Ms. Eunick-Paul demonstrated an incredible heart of humanity when she rose above the emotions of her loss and grief and agreed to sign off on the plea agreement that reduced Mr. Tate’s sentence.


“There’s no reason to be angry. If you’re that angry, you can’t move on,” Ms. Eunick-Paul told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper. “For God to bless you, you have to forgive.”

That sentiment is rare in murder cases and distinguishes her actions as God-like.

“I want him to be rehabilitated. We won’t know if he is rehabilitated if he doesn’t get a chance to show us,” she said. “I would like him to have a good life.”

Ms. Eunick-Paul showed great compassion for Tate’s life, although her life was forever changed since Tiffany died in 1999 after being left at the Tates’ for childcare. The little girl received multiple injuries, including a broken skull, bleeding brain and severed liver, which based the jury’s decision to find Lionel Tate, who was 12 years old at the time of the offense, guilty of first degree murder.

Sentenced as an adult at the age of 14, Mr. Tate became the youngest person sent to prison for life without parole. Little hope was seen for his future, but the family persevered.

Mr. Tate became a national poster child for sentencing reform. The United Nations and other countries that were appalled by his sentence heralded his case. An appeals court rejected Mr. Tate’s conviction and life sentence last December because his competency was not evaluated before or during the trial.

From the beginning, young Tate explained that what happened to Tiffany was an accident. He has apologized and said that he wished it never happened.

On January 30, Mr. Tate pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to the three years he has already served, a year of house arrest, 1,000 hours of community service and 10 years of probation–the same deal he was offered before his trial that was rejected by his mother.

“She has said that she didn’t believe her son was guilty of murder. What mother wants to just hand her child over to the criminal justice system when his guilt is in question?” DeLacy Davis of Black Cops Against Police Brutality asked The Final Call.

Mr. Davis became a family friend and consultant three years ago and has been with the family ever since. He went to Rome with the family to speak to the Pope, testified before the clemency board and designed the reintegration plan for Mr. Tate, who is now 17 years old.

He was also influential in gaining the involvement of the Nation of Islam with Mr. Tate. When Tate was released January 26, a group of well-disciplined members of the Fruit of Islam (FOI) surrounded him.

“The brothers gave us safe passage when Mr. Tate was released. Cameras and reporters bombarded us, but they guided us through. I’m indebted to the Nation for their help,” said Mr. Davis. “Reporters have asked me where did the Nation of Islam come from? The question is really insulting because no one asks the White people surrounding Martha Stewart where they came from. Why ask me?”

He added, “The Nation of Islam has been with me and my work from the very beginning. When I go to cities and work with police groups, I integrate the Brothers into my work. With the Nation of Islam walking alongside Black police, there is credibility that people in the community respect.”

Headed in the right direction

Hope for a better future is the community mantra now for Mr. Tate. He will spend some of his community service hours working for Ms. Eunick-Paul’s favorite charity.

“I would really love it if he would maybe talk to other kids, go to schools and talk to kids about what happened … ,” she told the Sun-Sentinel. “I would like it if he would help to get other kids to think about this stuff.”

Mr. Tate’s plan for reentry into society includes a team of nine professionals.

“Our plan is to make Lionel the most successful brother that we’ve produced and we have put a talented team of ministers, counselors and mentors in place to steer him in that direction. This method works best with high risk juvenile offenders and we include strong men to surround him,” said Mr. Davis.

“When youth know that there are adults that care about them, we’ve found that they work harder and we’ve been successful in reducing juvenile crime with this method.