At age 12 Lionel Tate killed his six-year-old playmate. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Five years later, in 2004, appellate courts overturned Tate’s conviction, and a plea bargain led to his release. But in 2005 he was arrested again for robbing a pizza delivery man, and he is now spending 30 years in prison.
While many see Lionel Tate as proof positive that some youthful offenders simply cannot be redeemed, others see him as one more juvenile who was poorly served by a correctional system that does not correct. He spent five years in the custody of that system, after all. As one court-appointed psychologist later lamented, “We had a real chance” to turn his life around. “The right thing would have been to get this young man some help.”