A very disturbing trial came to an end Thursday, with a 13-year-old from Florida convicted of first-degree murder. He was 12 when he killed a 6-year-old girl with his bare hands.
What's bone-chilling is how many times we're hearing of adolescents--or even prepubescents--committing murder.
A kid named Kipland Kinkel was 15 when he shot his parents to death in May 1998, then went to an Oregon school and opened fire, killing two and wounding 22.
He confessed a year and a half later, then was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Nathaniel Abraham committed murder at 11. He shot an 18-year-old young man in Michigan, where a law enabled a child of any age to be tried as an adult.
The killer was 13 when a court sentenced him in January 2000 to seven years in a maximum-security juvenile detention center.
And we all remember what happened inside a Colorado high school called Columbine.
Lionel Tate's taking of a life was different, though. Lionel's lawyer said there was a reason why his 13-year-old client had kicked and punched a little girl until her body gave out.
He watched too much wrestling.
Every time you think you've heard every excuse for behavior that makes your flesh crawl, you come across a fresh one.
There was that Aaron McKinney, who asked a jury to believe that he took part in beating a University of Wyoming student to death in October 1998 because the victim made a homosexual advance. It was known as a "gay panic" defense.
Laramie jurors not being idiots, McKinney was found guilty and sentenced to back-to-back life terms.
A guest from Jenny Jones' TV talk show used a similar defense, after killing a male panelist who'd expressed a romantic interest in him.
It was as preposterous as a diet of Twinkies and "junk food" being cited in 1979 as Dan White's reason for setting out to kill the mayor of San Francisco, or a Florida burglar named Wesley Shaffer saying he pulled a 1996 jewel heist because his blood sugar rose from eating two bags of cotton candy.
At least Lionel Tate had the alibi of being literally childish. When you make a mistake at 12, you can elicit a bit of sympathy.
But that doesn't mean you can say "I'm sorry" and go home to bed without supper for leaving a 6-year-old dead from a fractured skull and internal bleeding.
Lionel's lawyer said the kid watched so many professional wrestlers on TV kicking people and slamming their heads into solid objects that he just couldn't resist trying it himself.
If you buy this alibi--and a Fort Lauderdale jury didn't--then you have to exonerate any kid who shoots somebody because he saw a cowboy in a movie do it, a kid who saws somebody in half because he saw a magician do it, a kid who runs off a cliff because he saw the Roadrunner in a cartoon do it.
Video games, loud music, now TV wrestling . . . what reason for murder will somebody think up next--brain damage from cell phones?
Pro wrestling is today's circus. Tumblers and acrobats come to town in outrageous costumes, doing death-defying stunts. They fly through the air, they swing from ropes, and they make you flinch, maybe even fear that somebody's bound to get killed.
In a circus, the objective isn't to smash--or pretend to smash--a human into submission. Yet you don't stick your skull into a lion's mouth to advocate nonviolence, nor do you crawl under an elephant's elevated foot. Wrestling is just a circus with a different ring. The stars perform acts that appear more dangerous than they are.
Lionel Tate weighed nearly 170 pounds when he beat up Tiffany Eunick, 48 pounds. TV wrestling doesn't teach anybody to do that.
So what do you do? Blame a mother for being asleep at the time? Blame her for letting a 12-year-old watch a TV show that millions of 12-year-olds watch without beating any 6-year-olds to death?
A jury convicted Lionel of first-degree murder. His intention was to hurt Tiffany as much as he could, which he did.
Did he learn right from wrong? Did he plead guilty? No. Instead a lawyer said it was wrestlers' fault, because Lionel "wanted to emulate them . . . they were his heroes."
Lionel got to sit there and hear a grown-up say that it was somebody else's fault that Tiffany was dead.
If the jury had found him innocent, maybe Lionel Tate's entire punishment would have been to have his TV taken away.
Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to: Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org