FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Lionel Tate, the youngest person ever sentenced to life in prison without parole in the United States before being freed on appeal last year, was back behind bars Tuesday on suspicion of holding up a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint, officials said.
It was the second time that Tate, 18, had been arrested since his release from prison.
Tate was convicted in 2001 of beating a 6-year-old playmate to death two years earlier, when he was 12. Tate's lawyers argued that he had been mimicking wrestling moves he'd seen on television and that he hadn't intended to kill the girl.
On Monday afternoon, Tate phoned in an order for four Domino's pizzas from a friend's apartment in Pembroke Park, Fla., said Liz Calzadilla-Fiallo, a Broward County sheriff's spokeswoman. When the deliveryman arrived, she said, Tate "had a gun and held him up."
Deliveryman Walter Ernesto Gallardo, 44, reportedly dropped the pizzas and ran down the stairs, falling and injuring himself. When sheriff's deputies responded to Gallardo's 911 call, he identified Tate as the armed robber, Calzadilla-Fiallo said.
According to investigators, Tate chased the deliveryman, then returned to his 12-year-old friend's apartment, forced his way back in and hit the child, Calzadilla-Fiallo said.
He was being held without bail in the Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale on charges of armed burglary with battery, armed robbery and probation violation.
Tate's first-degree murder conviction and life sentence, which drew international attention, were overturned on appeal in December 2003. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and the next month he was allowed to go home with his mother, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, to serve a year of house arrest, followed by 10 years of probation.
In September, he was arrested for being outdoors at 2 a.m. with a knife, but he avoided prison time by admitting to breaking the conditions of his probation.
"Law-enforcement-wise, this is not a good scenario," Calzadilla-Fiallo said Tuesday. "We have two violations of probation on someone who was given a break. We're back to square one: Lionel is back in prison."
Richard Rosenbaum, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who has represented Tate in court proceedings, said the teenager could go back to prison for life for either the latest alleged probation violation or the alleged holdup. But the lawyer said Tate was being wrongly accused.
"Lionel's not guilty. He just needs a chance to live his life," Rosenbaum said.
Debbie Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections in Tallahassee, said Tate would be brought before Florida Circuit Judge Joel T. Lazarus, who presided over Tate's murder trial, to answer the new probation violation charge. "It's entirely up to the court system now to decide how serious this is," Buchanan said.
Lazarus did not return a telephone call to his chambers Tuesday afternoon. Sheriff's officials said detectives still were searching for the handgun.