Is Lionel Tate a Danger to Society?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 24, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST: Lionel Tate (search) is in trouble again, this time for holding up a pizza deliveryman. Tate, as you may remember, was convicted of murdering his 6-year-old playmate when he was only 12. Tate claimed he killed her while imitating a professional wrestling move. An appeals court gave him a second chance, where he pled guilty to second-degree murder and then was immediately released from jail and put on probation. This is his second brush with the law since his release.

Joining us now is the forensic psychologist who first examined Lionel Tate, Dr. Michael Brannon. He's also the co-director of the Institute for Behavioral Science and the Law.

Today's big question, Doctor: Is Lionel Tate still a danger to society?

DR. MICHAEL BRANNON, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, I don't know if he is now, Judge. I knew back in 1999 — when I did the initial evaluation with him — and I stated at that time that he posed a high risk of violence and that he should be in a structured residential program. So, I don't know where he's at now. But sans any treatment that was recommended, I can only speculate that he still poses an equal, if not more of a risk.

NAPOLITANO: What is the basis of the risk or of the danger? I mean, did he kill that girl intentionally or was it a negligent accident while he was imitating some professional wrestler, as he claimed?

BRANNON: Well, even the defense's own medical doctor, who was involved in the autopsy, did not say it was an accident. As a matter of fact, he said it could not have been an accident.

So, based upon that, plus numerous other factors — his behavior all throughout grade school, his behavior with his own relatives and his behavior within the psychological evaluation and his test scores — it certainly was reflective of an individual who had a high potential for violence.

Somehow, that got misinterpreted, misperceived and rationalized into an entirely different set of facts, if you will, that resulted in Lionel being released from jail.

NAPOLITANO: Why would he be released from jail after such a short period of time, even for second-degree murder, to which he pleaded guilty? In other words, why was he let out on the streets at all?

BRANNON: He was let out initially because there was, again, a misrepresentation of whether or not he was violent, although myself and another psychologist both said that he posed a high risk of violence.

The second time that he was released was because, again, the defense misrepresented an evaluation that was done on him and stated that it was a 20-minute evaluation, when, in effect, it was a day-and-a-half evaluation, again, by the same doctor who was hired by the state. There's been an ongoing effort on the part of the defense to characterize this as just misunderstandings, as a poor, young, immature boy who was borderline mentally retarded, who had never been violent before, who, just by circumstance, accidentally, through play wrestling, killed a girl, a little girl.

All of those things are untrue, though.

NAPOLITANO: When you examined him — and I think you may have been the first to examine him after the death of the young girl — what indicators did you see that enabled you to predict with professional confidence the propensity towards violence?

BRANNON: Judge, it's always a very, very difficult matter to give an opinion on risk assessment, especially for a juvenile.

However, there were some pretty clear markers in the current incident, in the current case. For instance, there was a long history of violence in school. His kindergarten teacher, who said that she taught for 30 years, said he was the worst behaved child she ever had in her classroom. There are other teachers who came forward to say that he was a bully in the classroom. At one point, he cursed out a principal of a school. He had played very rough, to where other parents wouldn't let him play with their kids.

He was aggressive in terms of his overall approach to his peers. He was a bigger kid than the rest of his peers. On test data and stimuli, he saw things like razor blades. He saw things like smashed animals. He was even aggressive when confronted in the interview. So, all of those things began to paint a picture of a child who had a high-risk potential.

NAPOLITANO: What do you say to those who will say — because you know we're going to hear this, Doctor — that he was made worse because he was put in jail, that, because he was 12 years old, the youngest person in modern American history convicted of murder, he should not have been put in jail and that it's the government's fault — I know this argument is coming — that he has committed this crime, alleged crime, of getting a gun and sticking up the pizza guy?

BRANNON: Judge, I would say, then, does going to jail explain how, in retrospect, he with his bare hands and feet wound up killing a little girl who was one-third his size by delivering blows, multiple blows that resulted in over 30 injuries, where Tiffany Eunick (search) died of internal bleeding, again, with the defense expert saying it could not have been an accident? Did jail cause that?

We predicted that. I and, again, the state psychologist, predicted that, and said that there's a high likelihood he would be violent again before he ever went to prison or went to jail.

So, based on what happened before he ever went and based upon psychological information and interviews, I think that the jail, if anything, taught him to inhibit some of his behaviors. He didn't kill anyone again. He did use a gun. He did have a knife in his possession, but he didn't kill anyone once he got out. So you could almost make the argument that he learned more self-control in jail.

NAPOLITANO: Dr. Michael Brannon, thanks very much.

BRANNON: Thank you, Judge.

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