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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Appellate Judge Orders New Trial for Lionel Tate

Aired December 10, 2003 - 11:20   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to back to our breaking news now out of Florida. And that is an appellate judge is ordering a new trial for Lionel Tate. With more on this, our Susan Candiotti who followed the story from the beginning. Susan, good morning.
SUSAN CANDIOTII, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn. You'll remember that Lionel Tate was 12-years-old at the time of this crime where he was convicted of first degree murder for murdering a little friend of his, a little girl by the name of Tiffany Eunick.

Now you'll remember this was argued that he was much too young to be convicted of a crime like this. And in fact that he didn't understand what he was doing, his mother later argued, although at the time, she was actually offered a plea deal to second degree murder if he pleaded guilty to that.

But his mother maintained that it was an accident. You'll remember, it was a very brutal crime. The authorities say that he had beaten this child for more than five minutes and that she had received more than 30 injuries.

Joining us now live is his trial attorney who fought so hard for him to get a new trial, Mr. Richard Rosenbaum. Tell me about your reaction on your winning a new trial for your client.

RICHARD ROSENBAUM, LIONEL TATE'S ATTORNEY: Hi, Susan. Well actually, I was not the trial lawyer, I was the appellate lawyer. And I came into the picture shortly after the conviction.

We're ecstatic with the Fourth District Court of Appeals ruling today, ordering a brand-new trial for young Lionel. The court ruled that there was not a sufficient showing that Lionel was competent pretrial and that the court committed error in refusing the post-trial motions for competency that we filed.

So we're ecstatic. I just couldn't see a child going to jail for the rest of his life for something that happened when he was 12-years- old.

CANDIOTII: Now, why was it at the time that the court did not agree to a competency trial for this young man?

ROSENBAUM: Well, at the very beginning there had been no request for a competency hearing. Our first argument on appeal was that the court had its own obligation to ensure that Lionel was competent and the court did shirk that responsibility. The second thing was that as soon as I got involved in the case, we started clamoring that we needed a competency hearing and we filed a motion. And in fact a neuropsychologist filed an affidavit saying that he questioned Lionel's competency.

So we felt that both pretrial and post-trial, there needed to be a find of competency before this child could be tried as an adult.

CANDIOTII: Now since you were the appellate attorney, would you also be the trial attorney for a new trial or would that likely be someone else?

ROSENBAUM: We'll wait and see. We're taking it one step at a time. The opinion was just issued less than an hour ago and we're all still try to digest it, figure out what the ramifications are.

CANDIOTII: Quickly, what will the argument be the second time around? What kind of defense will be mounted, do you suggest?

ROSENBAUM: Well I felt from the beginning this was an accident. I thought the wrestling defense was bogus but that this was an accident. And we developed some more facts about what actually happened. Lionel's more mature now, and he's able to converse with us and with the experts and tell us really more what really happened. And what really happened was this was an accident. And I'm hoping that we can establish that.

CANDIOTII: Mr. Rosenbaum, thank you very much for joining us. A major development in this case. Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: All right, Susan Candiotti. Thank you for the latest on that.

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