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 unconscious forces. According to Freud unconscious sexual conflicts rooted in childhood experiences cause most personality disturbances. His theory about the Oedipal complex said that children experience erotically tinged desires for their opposite-sex parent, conveyed by feelings of hostility toward their same-sex parent. Freud said that in order for this dilemma to be resolved the child must eradicate the sexual longings for the opposite-sex parent and overcome the hostility felt toward the same-sex parent. He would most likely argue that the absence of a father in Tate’s life was to blame for his actions. He would say that Tate never resolved the Oedipal dilemma.
Carl Rogers was one of the founders of the humanist movement. Humanism is a theoretical orientation that emphasizes the unique qualities of humans, especially their freedom and their potential for growth. Humanists believe in free will. According to Rogers, human behavior is governed primarily by each individual’s sense of self, or “self-concept.” Rogers would have said that Lionel Tate must not have received unconditional positive regard. His mother must have placed conditions on his love. Rogers would say this caused Tate to have an inaccurate self-concept, or that his self-concept must be incongruent. Too much incongruence undermines one’s psychological well-being. This leads to recurrent anxiety, which leads to defensive behavior. Rogers would have said Tate lashed out at Tiffany Eunick because of anxiety from his incongruent self-concept, leading back to his mother denying him unconditional positive regard.
When looking at what Lionel Tate did, I’d say that the motive comes from a combination of Skinner’s, Freud’s, and Rogers’ schools of thought. Tate was probably praised in some way for his size and strength, maybe by his friends, as Skinner would have said. Although I’m not sure that I agree that Tate is still clinging to the Oedipus complex as Freud may have said, I do think that the absence of a father may have contributed somewhat. While there are always children who get along just fine without a father, there are many who don’t. Tate may be one. I also agree with Rogers that maybe his mother conditioned his love, or at least Tate believed she did. I do feel that Lionel Tate knew what he was doing when he killed Tiffany Eunick. He was completely aware he was that hurting her, and blaming the WWF is just an excuse. I believe his conviction of first-degree murder was just.