The boy, who was tried as an adult, was handcuffed and led away in tears after a Florida jury convicted him of killing 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick. His mother followed, sobbing. In a re-enactment shown at his trial, Tate who was 12 and 170 pounds when Tiffany died, told his psychologist they were playing, imitating professional wrestlers from TV.
Tiffany was killed in the apartment where Lionel lived with his mother, a state trooper. Lionel's mom was babysitting Tiffany, but reportedly was asleep when the incident happened. According to the state medical examiner, 48-pound Tiffany suffered a fractured skull, broken rib and a lacerated liver. The prosecution rejected the "TV made him do it defense" but did not celebrate a victory.
"What happened in this case was a horrible, terrible tragedy all the way around. No matter how you look at it. There are no winners in this case -- only losers," said Padowitz.
Last year, Tate's mother turned down a plea agreement that would have placed him in juvenile detention for three years. He avoids the death penalty because he's under 16, but now faces the possibility of life in prison.
"The injuries were so extensive we all felt that it wasn't an accident," juror William Stevenson said. "We had to abide by the law, and the law spelled it out. It wasn't just wrestling."
Even the defense's experts conceded that Lionel's story would not have accounted for all of Tiffany's injuries.
But Jim Lewis, the boy's attorney, blasted prosecutors for using child-abuse laws to convict one child of another's murder.
"When the Legislature wrote the child-abuse laws, I don't think they ever envisioned them being used in this fashion," he said.
Lionel returns to court in March for sentencing. Gov. Jeb Bush has the power to commute the sentence after consulting with the prosecutor.
The case prompted discussion on television and radio talk shows about whether professional wrestling, a theatrical entertainment sport populated by cartoonish characters in colorful costumes, promoted violence without regard to the sport's influence over children.
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