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Teacher considers plea deal in sex case

Former middle school teacher Debra Lafave is accused of having sex with a 14-year-old student.

By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer
Published June 16, 2005

TAMPA - Prosecutors have offered a plea deal to Debra Lafave, the former Greco Middle School reading teacher accused of having sex with a 14-year-old student last June.

But her attorney told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman Thursday that he wants more time to review the state's "very detailed" 37-page psychological evaluation of Lafave before sitting down with her and her parents to decide whether to accept the deal.

The judge told defense attorney John Fitzgibbons and prosecutor Mike Sinacore to return to court July 18, the day Lafave's trial was scheduled to begin. By then, both attorneys said, they will know whether they can resolve the case with a plea bargain - or whether they will go forward with a trial they both had hoped to avoid.

Sinacore did not reveal details of the plea deal. Fitzgibbons would not say whether the state's offer includes prison time for Lafave, who is charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery, second-degree felonies punishable by up to 15 years in prison for each count.

Fitzgibbons did say the state's offer would resolve Lafave's charges in Hillsborough County as well as those in Marion County, where she faces two counts of lewd and lascivious battery and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition involving the same teen.

In Hillsborough, Lafave, 24, is accused of having sex with the teenager in her townhome and at Greco Middle School. In Marion, authorities say she and the boy had sex in the back of her silver SUV while the teen's cousin, 15, drove them around Ocala.

Fitzgibbons and Sinacore have both said they would rather avoid a trial, given the anticipated media frenzy and the stress and embarrassment it could bring for the student, who would be called to testify.

At issue are two opposing psychological evaluations of Lafave. Fitzgibbons' psychologist says she has "issues," and he is pursuing an insanity defense. He said his psychologist concluded "Debbie is ill."

The state's psychologist concluded Lafave was not insane when the alleged acts occurred, Sinacore said. Neither evaluation is being released to the public.

Fitzgibbons said he got a copy of the state's evaluation Wednesday. He wants his psychologist to review it before he entertains the state's plea offer.

"The next couple of weeks are going to be crucial in this case," Fitzgibbons told reporters. "We don't know what we're going to do."

He would not say whether he will consider an offer that includes prison time for Lafave, a University of South Florida graduate and longtime south Hillsborough resident who has never been in legal trouble before.

But the timing of the case against Lafave is difficult, he said, given the current no-tolerance approach to sex offenders - a reaction to the murders of two Tampa Bay girls whose accused killers are sex offenders.

"With everything going on in the Legislature, these are terribly, terribly serious laws whether you're a man or a woman," Fitzgibbons said. "You're talking about 50 or 60 years in prison."

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