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Plea deal requested for Lafave

Marion County prosecutors say a trial would endanger the victim's privacy. It could also affect Lafave's Hillsborough deal.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published March 9, 2006


[Times photo: Joseph Garnett Jr.]
Debra Lafave listens Wednesday as Marion County Circuit Judge Hale Stancil says that he needs more time to decide whether to accept her plea deal or take her case to trial.



Judge Hale R. Stancil said he needs time to think about the proposed plea deal.

OCALA - The teen who had sex nearly two years ago with former Temple Terrace middle school teacher Debra Lafave told a psychiatrist that he just wants to move on with his life.

Now 15, he's thinking of college.

He "would be revictimized by the system" if Lafave goes on trial for sexually assaulting him, given the sensational media attention, Dr. Martin Lazoritz told Marion County Judge Hale R. Stancil during a hearing Wednesday.

"He would always be plagued," said Lazoritz, who testified on behalf of Marion County prosecutors who want to avoid a trial by giving Lafave a plea deal.

Stancil, who rejected an earlier deal, said Wednesday that he needs time to think about the proposal. He said he will call Lafave, her attorney and state prosecutors back to court within 10 days to announce whether he intends to push for a trial in the case.

"Negotiations are a great part of the legal process," Stancil said. "That doesn't mean it's always to be given approval."

If Stancil rejects the Marion County proposal, that would endanger a similar plea agreement that Lafave reached with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office in November.

Hillsborough prosecutors agreed to let Lafave serve three years of house arrest and seven years of probation in exchange for pleading guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery.

Those charges stem from sexual encounters between Lafave and the boy, then 14, in June 2004 in her Temple Terrace classroom and the Riverview townhouse she shared with then-husband Owen Lafave.

Under the proposed Marion County plea deal, Lafave would serve identical terms of house arrest and probation, to run concurrently with the Hillsborough sentence.

The Marion County charges stem from a trip to Ocala in June 2004. Investigators say the teen and Lafave, then a reading teacher at Greco Middle School, had sex in the back of her sport utility vehicle.

When Lafave arrived in court Wednesday in a black skirt suit and high heels, she wore a black ankle monitor.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office never intended for her to avoid jail time, Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Mike Sinacore testified Wednesday.

Neither did the victim's mother.

But worries about media coverage changed their minds, Sinacore said.

The case against Lafave, now 25 and divorced, has been a media circus from the beginning.

"We would have a packed house every time she was in court," Sinacore told Stancil.

As the December date for Lafave's trial on the Hillsborough charges approached, the coverage grew unbearable and worrisome for the victim's family, Sinacore said.

Media outlets sent gifts to the house, even though the identity of the victim and his family was supposed to be confidential. Reporters for Internet sites knocked on neighbors' doors. One British tabloid published the teen's yearbook picture.

"We realized it would be naive to think his identity could be preserved throughout the trial," Sinacore said.

The teen's mother finally went to prosecutors and said she wanted them to resolve the case without a trial. After initially insisting on three years in prison for Lafave, the mother eventually said she would accept house arrest.

Lafave and her attorney, John Fitzgibbons, took the deal in November.

Marion County prosecutors then negotiated their plea deal. But when they brought it to Stancil in December, he balked. He said he was "inclined to impose a guideline sentence" of 17 years or more.

The testimony of Sinacore and Dr. Lazoritz on Wednesday was intended to show Stancil that a plea was best for all involved.

"He needs to just be able to play basketball in anonymity," Lazoritz said of the boy.

Stancil's closing remarks suggested he might not be convinced of the need to avoid a trial.

"We're not talking about 5-year-olds," Stancil said. "The victim was 14 at the time. A year and a half has passed since then."

The victim's mother hurried out of the courtroom, clearly upset. Reporters rushed outside to capture footage of Lafave, her parents and Fitzgibbons driving away.

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

[Last modified March 9, 2006, 02:45:12]


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