Tuesday's Talk Back Live on CNN examined the Lionel Tate sentencing. To balance out guests including Al Sharpton and Lionel Tate's attorney, the panel featured Ellen Morphonios, a retired Florida circuit court judge whose "reputation for tough sentences earned her the nickname u2018Maximum Morphonios,'" said host Bobbie Battista.
Too bad Morphonios didn't live up to her moniker, saying at one point: "The plea bargain that was offered by the District Attorney, by the State Attorney, which the defense counsel and the mother rejected, was eminently fair. That was a fair plea; that was a fair sentence. It was a good sentence and never, ever, ever should have been turned down." Morphonios later noted in this vein that "The prosecutor wasn't being hard-nosed; the judge was approving what was a fine sentence."
To reiterate, the plea bargain in question would have incarcerated Tate in a juvenile facility for three years followed by ten years probation.
Now a slew of individuals has expended plenty of energy denouncing the sentence Tate received (life without parole) as a barbaric penalty pointing to an inhumane system. (Amnesty International contends it violates international law yet another reason why Americans should repudiate institutions such as the International Criminal Court that would smash our self-determination, such as it is.) Thus far, though, I haven't heard a single person denounce or even criticize the initial plea bargain.
I submit that three years in prison and ten years probation would have been superfluous and flagrant leniency for the crime Lionel Tate perpetrated upon Tiffany Eunick. At the risk of appealing to common sense in a senseless age, should someone who fractured a six year-old girl's skull and detached her liver be out of prison in three years? Is that an equitable term of confinement for this atrocity?
Call me skeptical, but I doubt the hue and cry attending the life sentence would have manifested against the plea bargain had it been accepted.
Whereas Tate's life sentence will in all likelihood be reduced, acceptance of the plea bargain would have been an irrevocable injustice. That the prosecution made this a possibility is alarming. That a consensus considers that possibility to have been appropriate reflects an even more alarming deficit of compassion.
Tate's mother and attorney made a massive miscalculation when they rejected the plea bargain. Let us appreciate small blessings.
March 23, 2001
Myles Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.