Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Local Charges Dropped Against Debra LaFave

OCALA, Fla. -- Local prosecutors have dropped the charges against Debra LaFave, the Tampa school teacher accused of having sex with her 14-year-old student.

The decision came only hours after a Marion County judge rejected a second plea deal in the case.

Lafave held a news conference with her attorney shortly after the prosecutors' decision to drop the charges became official. She apologized, blamed her actions on a mental illness, saying she was bipolar, and she said she now wants to remarry, move on and be left alone.

"As you can see, my face has been plastered on every Internet address, every news outlet and that's not easy. It's not easy feeling the guilt and the remorse and having my own family suffer for my actions," she said.

Prosecutors promised the mother of the victim in this case that her son would not have to testify. But because Marion County Judge Hale Stancil rejected this second plea deal, the only other option for prosecutors would be a trial, which would force the teen to testify.

Stancil doesn't believe the teen would be damaged by his testifying in court. Nearly two weeks ago in court, the prosecution tried to convince the judge otherwise, but a child psychiatrist damaged the case, according to the judge, because he didn't show the victim's alleged mental stress.

"It is the opinion of this Court that accepting the proposed plea agreement would undermine the credibility of this Court, and the criminal justice system as a whole, and would erode public confidence in our schools," Stancil wrote in his rejection order.

"Accepting the proposed plea agreement would likewise send the message that if enough publicity is generated, and the media's interest continues long enough, and because of that interest the victim does not wish to testify, a defendant can avoid an appropriate sentence. Quite frankly, if the allegations against the Defendant are true, the agreed-upon sentence shocks the conscience of this Court."

LaFave's case has attracted media attention from near and far, a reason why State Attorney Ric Ridgway said the victim would be further harmed if he was forced to take the stand.

"In my estimation, the harm to the victims in forcing them to testify and go through what they were going to be put through, primarily by the media, was simply unconscionable and I'm not willing to do that to them," Ridgway said.

LaFave Blames Actions On Mental Illness

LaFave said on Tuesday that she suffers from bipolar disorder and she thanked her attorney for showing that mental illnesses can cause "good people to do bad things." She also apologized to her victim.

"I pray with all my heart that the young man and his family will be able to move on with their lives. Again, I offer my deepest apology," she said.

LaFave, 25, has already been convicted and sentenced on almost identical charges in a plea deal in Hillsborough County. That means any trial would have likely meant the same or similar sentence that she is already serving.

Because of that, prosecutors and the mother of the victim said they could not justify forcing the young man and his 15-year-old friend to testify, especially since this case has drawn worldwide media attention and Court TV planned on covering any trial in Marion County.

In Hillsborough County, LaFave pleaded guilty to two counts of having sex with her student, who was then 14. In exchange, she has to serve three years of house arrest followed by seven years of probation.

LaFave was asked on Tuesday about what she thinks of critics who say she will not serve any jail time for her crimes.

"I believe that my mental illness had a lot to do with my actions, and my passion was teaching and that's taken away from me. I've lost family and I've lost friends," LaFave said.

LaFavre was charged with having sex with the teen in her classroom in Hillsborough County, in her townhouse and in her car on a trip to Ocala, which is why Marion County's court became involved in this case.

LaFave, who divorced after her arrest, is now engaged to remarry. She insisted on Tuesday that she will not reoffend and will obey the court's order to stay away from children.

She is studying to be a journalist, saying she loves to write, although the plea agreement keeps her from profiting on her case -- for now.



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