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A lesson in compassion

Young Lionel Tate had more than his share of high-profile supporters, from Anglican bishops to the New Black Panther Party. But the most persuasive call for his freedom came not from the prominent defenders who knew him the least but from the one woman _ famed only in tragedy, not by choice _ he had hurt the most.

Deweese Eunick-Paul, the mother of Tate's 6-year-old victim Tiffany Eunick, signed off on the plea deal that allowed Tate to walk free Thursday after serving three years of his life sentence. A woman of faith, Eunick-Paul said she did so because Tate was just a "young kid" of 12 when he killed but is a "young man" now.

"If he Tate wants to do better and do something good with his life, I think he should be given that opportunity," Eunick-Paul told reporters.

In a week in which Tate's release has understandably garnered most of the comment, Eunick-Paul's humanity deserved more than a footnote. Here is a woman who lost her child to what she believed _ still believes _ to be Tate's murderous acts, yet not only acquiesced in the teen's release but actively supported it. In so doing, Eunick-Paul extended a forgiving hand and gave Tate what her own daughter will never have: a second chance.

Florida's prosecutors and lawmakers could learn from this mother's compassion and rationality. Charged and convicted as an adult, Tate was given the mandatory sentence under an inflexible Florida law still in effect, despite judicial urgings that the statute be revised. An appeals court threw out Tate's conviction last month. But other youths will not be so fortunate _ not as long as Florida persists in treating its youngest offenders as little adults who need to be broken, rather than as young people who deserve to be helped.

In the end, Eunick-Paul had but one request: that Tate publicly own up to what he did. She didn't get that Thursday. Beyond pleading guilty to second-degree murder, Tate said nothing in court. That's too bad _ for Tate, more than anyone.

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