FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Lionel Tate, who beat and stomped a little girl to death when he was 12, wants a judge to let him withdraw his guilty plea to robbing a pizza delivery man, saying in a letter released Tuesday that he can prove he didn't pull the heist.
Lionel Tate, once the youngest person in modern U.S. history sentenced to life in prison, said in the letter to the Broward County judge that when he pleaded guilty March 1, "it was not explained to me in great detail on what I can and cannot appeal."
The guilty plea called for 10 to 30 years in prison, sparing Tate a potential return to life in prison for violating his probation stemming from the 1999 killing of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick.
Tate's lawyers initially claimed the girl was killed accidentally when Tate imitated wrestling moves seen on television. He was tried as an adult, convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced in 2001 to life. But a court in 2004 tossed out the conviction, leading Tate to plead guilty to a lesser charge and accept probation.
In the handwritten letter to the judge, Tate, now 19, said, "I can prove to you and others that I did not commit these crimes." He added that he did not wish to withdraw his no contest plea to violating probation.
A March 31 hearing on the request has been scheduled. Tate is to be sentenced April 3.
Tate's attorney, Ellis Rubin, said Tuesday he did not know about the letter.
"This comes as a complete surprise and shock to me," Rubin said.
Chief prosecutor Chuck Morton said the plea was irrevocable.
"All I can say is it's a decision the judge has to make as to whether he understands all the consequences of the plea," Morton said.