Charges dropped against Lafave
Debra Lafave, the teacher accused of having sex with a 14-year-old, said Tuesday she is "very remorseful. The Marion County prosecutor dropped the charges to spare the teen the trauma of testifying.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER and ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published March 21, 2006
TAMPA - A few hours after an Ocala judge refused to accept a plea deal, Marion County prosecutors announced that they were dropping all charges against Debra Lafave, the former middle school teacher accused of sexual assault of a student nearly two years ago.
"The court may be willing to risk the victim's well being in this case in order to force it to trial, I am not,'' said Ric Ridgway, chief assistant state attorney in Marion County.
Earlier Tuesday, Marion County Judge Hale R. Stancil had rejected a plea deal that would have spared Lafave jail time in exchange for pleading guilty.
"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," Judge Stancil wrote in the order released Tuesday.
Marion County prosecutors then decided to drop the charges.
Lafave, speaking at length Tuesday afternoon for the first time since her arrest, said she feels "very remorseful" at what she did. "I only pray the young man and his family will be able to move on with their lives.''
Stancil had said he would call Lafave, 25, and her attorney and prosecutors back to his courtroom to announce his decision. Instead, he issued a written order rejecting the plea.
Lafave's attorney, John Fitzgibbons, called Ridgway's decision to drop the charges "the right thing."
"Well this time, this case is really over, and over for good," Fitzgibbons said during a news conference at his downtown Tampa office Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier this month, Marion County prosecutors urged Stancil to respect the wishes of the teenage victim's mother and accept the plea deal.
The mother of the boy, 14 at the time of the June 2004 sexual encounters, decided last fall that the media frenzy surrounding the trials in Hillsborough and Marion counties would be too much for her son.
So Hillsborough prosecutors in November reached a deal with Lafave. She pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery in exchange for serving three years of house arrest followed by seven years of probation.
Marion prosecutors wanted to offer Lafave the same punishment, to run concurrent, in exchange for her pleading guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition.
Authorities say that in June 2004, Lafave and the teen had sex in her portable classroom at Greco Middle School, in her townhome and in her car during a trip to Ocala in which the teen's cousin drove.
If Lafave had been convicted, she could have been sentenced to as much as 40 years in prison.