A Life Wasted for Lionel Tate
The last time you probably heard about Lionel Tate, the sad pre-teenager was getting from the criminal justice system a second chance at living a productive, happy life. Convicted at the age of 12 of murdering a 6-year-old girl with a wrestling move he had seen on television, Tate won his appeal by convincing his judges that he had not understood the charges against him. He then cut a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, and was freed from prison and put on probation.
At this point, you would think, the young man would have had the fear of God instilled in him to put to right the mistakes he had made. But it was not to be for Tate. Two years ago, a judge gave Tate yet another chance after he was found with a knife. Five more years were added to his probation but Tate never had to serve any time.
And last year, the teenager-- now huge and hulking-- was charged with having a gun and robbing a pizza delivery man. Those are crimes themselves, of course, and they also represented a violation of Tate's probation. So, today, a Florida judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison. "In plain English, you've run out of chances," Broward County Circuit Judge Joel T. Lazarus told Tate. "You do not get any more."
The sentence means that Tate is likely to spend the bulk of his adult life in prison. In addition to the probation violation, Tate still has to face the music on the robbery charge and a conviction in that case would only add to his sentence. And it's clear from the media reports today that there is still great discord in the Tate camp; discord that emerged many years ago during his first and most famous runaround with the law. His lawyer told the Associated Press outside court that Tate should not have withdrawn his guilty plea. "He continues to get bad advice from meddling third parties," the lawyer said.
The story of Tate's life, then, is one of wasted opportunity. Opportunity to develop as an intellectually and emotionally stable child. Opportunity to rectify or at least recompensate for a horrible deed done young. Opportunity to help other young people avoid the problems he endured but could not overcome. Opportunity to do something useful and profound, or even just plain and average, with a young mind and healthy body. People have said before that the system let Tate down-- the educational system, the legal system, this system and that system. But in the end Lionel Tate and his family have no one to blame but themselves and now a lifetime to think of what might have been.
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