FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Lionel Tate, the teen sentenced to life in prison in a 6-year-old girl's death but later freed, did not violate probation because officers illegally searched him after his mother ordered him to leave their home, his lawyer said yesterday.
At a brief hearing, Circuit Judge Joel Lazarus set a trial Oct. 29 on charges that Tate had violated probation by leaving his apartment earlier this month while under house arrest and carrying a weapon.
Richard Rosenbaum, Tate's attorney, told the judge that he would challenge the search after Tate, 17, and a friend were stopped in the early morning hours of Sept. 3, when most people in the region were locked down for Hurricane Frances.
Police said the search produced a pocketknife and identification in Tate's name. He had given officers a false name.
Tate was 12 in 1999 when he fatally beat Tiffany Eunick, whom his mother was baby-sitting. A jury convicted him of first-degree murder, triggering an automatic life sentence and making him the youngest child in modern US history to be sentenced to life in prison.
An appeals court overturned the conviction and sentence, and Tate pleaded guilty in a plea deal to second-degree murder and went free in January.
Tate, who was handcuffed to a courtroom chair, did not speak during the hearing yesterday.
The defense did not ask for bail, and Lazarus said the teenager would stay in jail until the October hearing.
Prosecutor Chuck Morton had no comment but asked in court papers that Tate be sentenced to 18 years to life in prison for the violations.
Rosenbaum said he and prosecutors are negotiating a settlement based on questions about the legality of the search, defense claims that the knife is not considered a weapon under state law, and the role of Tate's mother in his decision to leave the home.
Tate's mother, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Kathleen Grossett-Tate, was in court, but she and her attorney had no comment afterward.
Tate was sentenced in January on his guilty plea to three years in prison that he already had served, house arrest for a year, and 10 years' probation.