FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A 13-year-old boy has recanted his statement that Lionel Tate (search) — once the youngest American sentenced to life in prison — robbed a pizza delivery man at gunpoint, Tate's lawyer said Wednesday.
Attorney James Lewis said the boy, Taquincy Tomkins, has now told private investigators that a 16-year-old Tomkins knows only as "Willie" actually committed the May 23 robbery. Tomkins said he blamed Tate under pressure from Broward County (search) sheriff's investigators and because "Willie" threatened to kill him, according to a transcript of the statement provided by Lewis.
Circuit Judge Joel Lazarus has scheduled a Thursday hearing to determine whether the new evidence warrants Tate's release on bond. Broward County sheriff's officials did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Tate, now 18, killed 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in 1999. Then 12, Tate initially blamed the girl's death on wrestling moves he said he copied from television. He touched off a debate over Florida's practice of prosecuting juveniles as adults when he was sentenced to life in prison.
Tate's life sentence was overturned on appeal and he was released on a plea bargain after serving three years. The deal placed him under house arrest for a year, followed by 10 years of probation.
But Tate was re-arrested last month and charged with armed robbery. Police said a print matching Tate's had been found on one of four pizza boxes delivered to the apartment where the holdup occurred. They also said Tomkins and the pizza delivery man identified Tate.
At a hearing earlier this month, a judge ordered Tate held without bond pending an August hearing on whether to revoke his probation. If Tate's probation were revoked, he could face life in prison under the plea agreement stemming from Eunick's death.
Tate's lawyer has said Tate did not commit the crime. He also has questioned how the delivery man could have identified Tate when the robber was wearing a black mask over the lower part of his face.