State prosecutors decided Tuesday to drop charges against a former Tampa teacher accused of having sex with a 14-year-old middle school student.
The decision means Debra Lafave won’t go to trial and the victim won’t have to testify.
Prosecutors announced the decision hours after a judge rejected a plea deal that would have meant no prison time for Lafave. “Quite frankly, if the allegations against the defendant are true, the agreed-upon sentence shocks the conscience of this court,” said Marion County Circuit Judge Hale Stancil.
Sources told Orlando NBC affiliate WESH-TV that prosecutors had planned for several weeks to drop the charges against Lafave, who earlier agreed to a plea deal in a second court in a case in which she lost her teacher's license and was sentenced to three years of house arrest.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and the boy’s mother wanted to avoid trial for the boy’s well-being.
He has suffered extreme anxiety from the media attention and does not want to testify, a psychiatrist previously told Stancil. But the judge said the lack of prison time prosecutors had proposed in Lafave’s plea deal “shocks the conscience of this court.”
Assistant State Attorney Richard Ridgway later said, “The court may be willing to risk the well-being of the victims in this case in order to force it to trial. I am not.”
At a news conference in Tampa, Lafave said she has bipolar disorder, and her attorney said she is getting treatment.
“I want the world to see that bipolar is real,” Lafave said. “Not one time has the media brought up the subject of my bipolar. I challenge you to read a book or an article on bipolar illness.”
Her relationship with the student, Lafave said, was a result of her bipolar disorder.
Three years under house arrest
Lafave, 25, will spend three years under house arrest and seven years on probation under the Hillsborough County sentence, where she was charged with having sex with the same boy in a classroom and her home. She pleaded guilty Nov. 22 to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery under a plea deal there.
In Marion County, she was accused of having sex with the boy in a sport utility vehicle.
“There is no one that wanted to see Debra Lafave serve jail time more than myself,” the boy’s mother wrote in an e-mail to the Ocala Star-Banner over the weekend. But she said the welfare of her son was more important.
Lafave responded on Tuesday to publicly being called a “monster” and a “predator.”
“I believe that my family know who I am and right now, my family and my friends are all that matter,” she said.
At the news conference, Lafave was also asked if she wanted to have children.
“I think that’s every woman’s dream,” Lafave said.