Sex case ex-teacher is found to be sane

Debra Lafave's attorney says she meets one half of the criteria for the insanity defense. Her trial is scheduled to begin July 18.

Published May 19, 2005

TAMPA - The state's psychologist recently concluded Debra Lafave was not insane at the time of her alleged affair with a teenage student, but prosecutors will nonetheless spend the next few weeks exploring a possible plea deal for the former teacher whose case has generated international attention.

Prosecutor Mike Sinacore told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman on Wednesday that he will work with Lafave attorney John Fitzgibbons toward "a resolution" in the case against 24-year-old Lafave.

But later, Sinacore stressed: "The doctor says she is legally sane. She was sane at the time of the offenses."

Timmerman scheduled another pretrial hearing for June 16. Lafave's trial is scheduled to begin July 18.

Sinacore said in a previous court proceeding that for the sake of the alleged victim, who would have to testify, he wants to avoid a trial - which is expected to draw the attention of newspapers, tabloids and other media outlets.

Investigators say Lafave began having sex with the teen, a recent graduate of Greco Middle School, where she taught reading, just a few weeks before Temple Terrace police arrested her in the teen's driveway.

Fitzgibbons is pursuing an insanity defense for Lafave, who pleaded not guilty to four felony counts of lewd and lascivious battery and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition following her arrest last June. Each count carries a maximum 15-year prison term.

Fitzgibbons' psychologist already evaluated Lafave and determined she has "issues," the attorney said. He has not released the reports from the evaluation, nor has the state released its psychologist's findings.

Lafave's older sister Angela Beasley was pregnant when she was killed in April 2001 by a drunk Army captain. Lafave's mother testified during the court martial for the captain that her youngest daughter became "pretty much a basket case" after Beasley's death.

Lafave bought a statue of a butterfly for her sister's grave, and she has two butterfly tattoos on the small of her back.

Wednesday, she wore a butterfly pin on her olive green skirt. She also wore a cross around her neck. She stood between her parents and Fitzgibbons but said nothing, as Fitzgibbons told reporters his client clearly meets one half of the two-pronged criteria for the insanity defense.

"I don't think any of the doctors from either side will disagree that Debbie is ill and has suffered a great, great deal over the years," he said.

Fitzgibbons did not address whether Lafave knew right from wrong regarding the alleged affair - which also must be proved for an insanity defense.

During a June 21 phone conversation between Lafave and the teen that was taped by authorities, Lafave told the teen she was coming to pick him up.

She wanted to know if his mother had left for work. He told Lafave she was gone.

"Pinky promise?" Lafave said.

"Yes," the teen answered.

"Say pinky promise," she said.

An hour or so later, Lafave was in police custody.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com