Diagnosing Lionel Tate Using Different Psychological Theories
On January 26, 2001, 13-year-old Lionel Tate was convicted in the first-degree murder of Tiffany Eunick. The incident occurred in July of 1999 in Pembroke Park, Florida. Tate, then twelve, claimed he was imitating pro wrestlers when he killed six-year-old Eunick. He claimed to have picked the girl up and accidentally thrown her into a stair handrail and wall while trying to throw her onto a sofa. Experts all agreed that Eunick was beaten for a period of time. The autopsy report showed that the girl suffered a fractured skull, lacerated liver, broken rib, internal hemorrhaging, and cuts and bruises. One expert said her injuries were comparable to falling from a three-story building. Tate was much larger than Eunick – 170 pounds compared to her forty-eight. Not even his defense could claim that he did not beat the girl to death, although they did stick to the claim that professional wrestling was the central issue in Eunick’s death. They said Tate was immature and did not understand that pro wrestlers were trained to look as though they beat each other without hurting each other. A spokesman for the World Wrestling Federation claimed, “A twelve-year-old knows the difference between the real world and entertainment and can make that distinction.” The jury obviously agreed, because after only a three-hour deliberation, they returned with a guilty verdict.
B.F. Skinner, a behaviorist, claims that people tend to repeat responses that lead to positive outcomes. He goes further to say that they tend not to repeat responses that are followed by a negative or neutral response. If Skinner were looking at the case of Lionel Tate, he would say that Tate must have in some way been rewarded for this type of behavior in the past. Tate is a large boy (170 pounds). He most likely wrestled with his friends, and due to his size, would usually be able to overtake them. This would be considered a positive attribute to twelve-year-old boys. Tate could possibly have “beaten up” other children before where his friends would have cheered him on. But in these instances, he was most likely fighting with boys much closer to his own age and size. When it came to Tiffany Eunick, who was just a little girl, he outweighed her by 120 pounds and was much stronger.
Sigmund Freud would have taken a much different approach when diagnosing why Lionel Tate killed Tiffany Eunick. Freud believed that behavior is governed by...