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Special Event

Lionel Tate's Mother Testifies in Wrestling Murder Case

Aired March 2, 2001 - 2:07 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we are going to switch you to a Fort Lauderdale courtroom, where Kathleen Tate is on the witness stand. She is the mother of a 13-year-old boy named Lionel Tate, who has been given a life sentence in the killing of 6-year-old girl in a wrestling match.

There was -- just to give you a little background, a plea bargain attempt before the trial, which would have restricted the boy's sentence to around three years or so. Don't know all the details of plea bargain, but it was rejected, there was a trial, there was a sentence of life in prison.

And now this is a sentencing hearing. Let's hear what's going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... where it indicates that first degree murder carries with it a life sentence?

KATHLEEN TATE, LIONEL TATE'S MOTHER: I don't remember.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have an opportunity on May 26th to read a "Sun-Sentinel" article? The first story on the front page, where in that article, it indicates that first degree murder carries with it a penalty of life in prison?

TATE: I don't remember if I read that one either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have an opportunity on October 7th, 2000, to read an article that was located on page 3B of "The Sun- Sentinel," local section, by writer Paul McMahon, where it indicates that first degree murder carries a life sentence?

TATE: Same answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have an opportunity on October 24, 2000, to read an article on your son on the front page of the local section, which indicated that a life sentence was the only penalty available for a first degree murder conviction?

TATE: The same answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have an opportunity to read December 26th, 2000, January 12th, 2001 and January 24th, 2001, where "The Sun- Sentinel" published articles on your son indicating that a conviction for a first degree murder carries with it a penalty of life in prison?

TATE: Don't remember which one I read and which one I didn't read.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have an opportunity to read "The Miami Herald," which published numerous articles in the past year on your son's indictment for first degree murder, and if that -- that the penalty is life in prison?

TATE: I don't remember which one I read, and which one I didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And of all these newspaper articles and all the television coverage throughout the nation and throughout south Florida, it's your testimony that you have no recollection that a life sentence was the sentence that was available if convicted of first- degree murder?

TATE: I told you I have no recollection of what I read.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm asking you, at any time during that year, with all the newspaper articles and all the television coverage, you had no idea -- as a sworn police officer -- that life in prison was the sentence available for a conviction for first degree murder?

TATE: I never said I had no idea. I said I don't remember discussing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have an idea that was in fact...

TATE: I didn't even think about in this case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never thought about it any time?

TATE: Because I didn't think it was going this far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever have numerous conversations with Dr. John Spencer where he indicated to you that the state was offering three years in a juvenile facility versus the life sentence that he was facing if convicted of first degree murder?

TATE: I had several conversations with Dr. Spencer. I cannot remember all of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember any conversations concerning the fact that a life sentence was what your son was facing if convicted of first degree murder?

TATE: I don't remember.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any recollection of having numerous conversations with Dr. Joel Class (ph), the psychiatrist hired by the defense, where he went over with you with your and your son the fact that a life sentence was the only penalty if convicted for first degree murder and that the state was offering something vastly different.

TATE: I don't remember that conversation with me and my son with Dr. Class, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever had an opportunity to speak to Mr. Jim Lewis during the course of the entire year up to jury selection, where he informed you that you were facing a life sentence, that your son was facing a life sentence, without the possibility of parole if he was convicted of first-degree murder?

TATE: I don't remember that either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now isn't it in fact true that Mr. Lewis, after having numerous conversations with myself and other members of the Florida bar, came to you with a letter, which detailed the fact that he had discussed the plea offer with you and that life in prison was what your son was facing if convicted, and that he provided you with a copy of this letter, which you signed?

TATE: I don't remember that letter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if Mr. Lewis had told other members of the Florida bar, including myself, that he had, in fact. provided you with such a letter, and that you had in fact reviewed it and signed it, you have no recollection of it?

TATE: I don't remember the letter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not saying it doesn't exist, you're just saying you don't recall at this time?

TATE: I'm not saying it doesn't exist. I'm not -- I'm saying that I do not remember a letter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, isn't it true that in some point Dr. Sherry Bore Carter (ph) and Dr. Brandon (ph) indicated to you and your son Lionel Tate that their position as psychologists -- one being court-appointed and one being a state-hired psychologist -- that things that they learned from Lionel Tate during their evaluation was not "a secret" -- quote, unquote, and that would, that all the information would be provided to the court, to the prosecutor, and to the defense attorney?

TATE: From what I can remember, Dr. Brandon was hired by the state, by the -- appointed by the court as an objective psychologist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is: Do you recall, do you have a memory of Dr. Bore Carter and Dr. Brandon going over with you and Lionel Tate the fact that their evaluation was not secret, and that it was going to be provided publicly to the prosecutor, the judge and the defense attorney?

TATE: I don't remember that conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not saying it didn't occur, you just don't recall it?

TATE: I don't remember that conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now is there any reason why you have difficulty in remembering whether or not these things occurred or not?

TATE: I don't know. You have to ask the doctor.

POTTER: Now I don't hear the courtroom.

WATERS: We are hearing the prosecutor in the Lionel Tate case. He is the 14-year-old boy, who was 13 at the time of the killing of a 6-year-old girl.

The mother of that boy now being questioned by the prosecutor about a plea bargain that was offered prior to the trial, a plea deal that offered three years in a juvenile home, one year of house arrest and 10 years of probation and counseling. That offer was rejected.

That is the nature of the plea deal and why you're hearing the questions you are hearing from the prosecutor. Because that plea deal was rejected, the trial moved forward on a first degree murder charge, and Lionel Tate, as you may know, since the trial, was convicted first degree murder and has been automatically sentenced to life in prison.

CNN's Mark Potter has been covering the trial. He's outside the courtroom. This is a pre-sentencing hearing, Mark. There's going to be another one, I understand, before the judge settles on all this.

What's before the court today?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the second of two pre-sentence hearings. This is actually the last pre-sentencing hearing. There's a couple of issues that are being dealt with. The attorneys are asking the judge to throw out the entire case and order a new trial.

If he doesn't order that, they're saying that he should reduce the verdict, which right now stands at a first-degree murder conviction, reduce it down to either second degree or manslaughter so that the judge can have something to deal with other than the mandatory life sentence that he now must impose upon this now 14-year- old boy.

The issue also before us right now -- and that's why we've seen Lionel Tate's mother on the witness stand -- is the question of whether Lionel himself fully understood all the ramifications of going to trial in adult court rather than accepting that plea deal offered before trial by the prosecutor, Ken Padowitz (ph).

And the mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, has been testifying on the stand that she did not know that the boy could face mandatory -- a mandatory life prison term if he was convicted of first degree murder.

And what we heard in the presentation that we just gave a little bit here on CNN was the cross-examination by the prosecutor, who was suggesting to the court that that was unbelievable. He made the point that she is a highway trooper, that she was trained in law enforcement, she went to the academy.

There had been newspaper articles after newspaper articles written about the fact that a mandatory -- that a life sentence is mandatory if the boy's convicted of first-degree murder. And he kept hammering at her to try to make his point that she should have known all along that the boy was walking into a very dangerous territory if he went to trial on this first-degree murder charge rather than accepting the plea deal, which now looks very gentle compared to what the boy actually faces now that he has gone to trial.

WATERS: What's the purpose of the exercise, Mark? He's essentially saying to the mother: "Hey, look, you knew about this plea deal. You signed the letter. You can't come back now and tell us you didn't realize what might happen to your son."

POTTER: That's exactly what the prosecutor is saying.

The defense is raising the issue that the boy did not understand all of the ramifications, and its attempt is what's important here. It's trying to convince the judge to throw out this trial and to start over again, because the boy was never given an opportunity to fully understand what was at issue in this case.

In fact, the mother testified that she never discussed this with the boy, and the defense attorney never discussed the ramifications of going to trial in front of the boy. And by law, the defense argues, it is the boy himself who should have made this decision: not the mother, not the defense attorney -- the boy, the defendant, even though at that time that he went to trial he was 13 years old.

The prosecutor's point is it's too late now: We went to trial; the boy was convicted. The judge, by law, according to the prosecutor, must sentence the boy to life in prison.

The prosecutor also stresses, however, that it is likely that he would -- he, the prosecutor -- would then ask the governor of the state of Florida, Jeb Bush, to hold a clemency hearing and commute the sentence downward, perhaps to the original plea deal that was offered before trial.

The defense, of course, is leery of going through this procedure in court, which ends up where the judge sentences the boy to life and then having to wait to see what the governor does. That's too risky for the defense. And so, that's why this very critical argument to both sides is under way now, here in Broward Circuit Court.

WATERS: Is the prosecution correct? The judge has no leeway here? He must -- he must impose the life sentence?

POTTER: That's their argument of what's correct in court. Court is an adversarial proceeding. And the defense says that he does have some wiggle room.

They point to the case in Massachusetts, the so-called "nanny case," where a judge reduced downward from a first-degree murder conviction to manslaughter, overrode a jury's decision.

The defense is arguing that the judge does have some wiggle room. The prosecution says he absolutely does not. It's up to the governor. So it's an argument. Who's right? I don't know.

WATERS: OK. Mark Potter, when you do know, you'll be the first person we check with.

Mark Potter, down in Fort Lauderdale.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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