Life Without Parole: The Sentencing of Michael Tate

Michael Tate (profiled in the September 20 feature "Killer Instinct)" was only sixteen when he murdered Steve Fitzgerald, but the Jefferson County District Attorney's office filed charges in adult court, where Tate was found guilty of felony murder -- a crime that carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole. But although everyone knew that Tate would be going away forever, there was still a couple of surprises at his sentencing on Friday, November 2.

Two of the jurors who found Michael Tate guilty of felony murder felt guilty enough themselves about the verdict that they took the stand at his sentencing and told Jefferson County Judge Jane Tidball that they had felt coerced by other jurors to come back with a guilty decision.

Tidball didn’t deem their sentiments strong enough to grant Tate another trial. The judge did, however, let the jurors address the court prior to Tate’s sentencing, just as the victim’s brother, sister-in-law, wife and daughter addressed the court, explaining that they will never recover from the loss of Steve Fitzgerald.

“There are no winners in this case,” said John Fitzgerald, Steven’s brother. "The only thing we can do with Mr. Tate in my mind is to make sure he never gets to do what he did to my brother to anyone else.”

Jessica Fitzgerald was just thirteen when her father was killed three years ago by Tate and her brother, Michael, who took a plea bargain and is currently serving a 62-year sentence for his role in Steven Fitzgerald's death.

“He lived to give, but he cannot do that anymore,” Jessica said at sentencing, directly addressing Tate. Her father wouldn't see her graduate high school, won’t walk her down the aisle. And when she's a mother, she'll have to take her children to the cemetery to meet their grandfather. “Thanks to you, one more kid is without a parent.”

Jessica’s mother, Kris Fitzgerald, expressed her disgust with the way that the legal system treats the accused more fairly than the victim. “This trial has proven not only is justice blind, it is also deaf and dumb,” she said, calling Tate a “potential terrorist who will kill again if given a chance.”

Tate’s birth mother, who lost custody of Tate when he was just a toddler, and a woman who tried to adopt Tate both took the stand and gave teary-eyed pledges to remain in Tate’s life from here on out -- even though the rest of that life will be spent in prison.

When Tate’s attorney Shawna Geiger addressed the court, she said that Michael has expressed nothing but remorse for his crime. She hopes that her client will someday be free, whether through clemency and appeal, she added; she believes that sentencing people to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles is unconstitutional.

While Tate was convicted of several other crimes apart from felony murder, including theft and burglary, Judge Tidball ran all of his sentences concurrently.

“I think that life in prison without parole is enough,” she said.

-- Luke Turf

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Sean Cronin