March 22, 2006

Update: LaFave Charges Dropped

For the latest on Debra LaFave, see Update: NBC Interviews Debra LaFave.

Profile picture of Debra LaFaveIn an update to my series of "Desperate Women" posts, Debra Jean Beasley LaFave, the 25-year-old middle school teacher from Tampa, Florida, has had all charges dropped against her. LaFave, as you may recall, had had a sexual affair two years ago with a then 14-year-old boy. The boy's mother, who wished to avoid going to trial at all costs, apparently killed the last chance for convicting LaFave. [See my Desperate American Women? post for my original thoughts on this case.]

In Marion County, LaFave had originally agreed to plead guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery for having sex with the boy. It was part of a plea deal her lawyers struck with prosecutors so she could avoid serving time in prison. However, Marion County Circuit Judge Hale Stancil rejected the plea agreement. According to Stancil, honoring the plea agreement would undermine the credibility of the criminal justice system and "erode public confidence in our schools. Accepting the proposed plea agreement would likewise send the message that if enough publicity is generated, and the media's interest continues long enough, and because of that interest the victim does not wish to testify, a defendant can avoid an appropriate sentence. Quite frankly, if the allegations against the defendant are true, the agreed-upon sentence shocks the conscience of this court."

As a result of Stancil's ruling and the mother's intransigence, Assistant State Attorney Richard Ridgway dropped the charges against LaFave, saying, "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."

However, Lafave still faces three years of house arrest and seven years probation in Hillsborough County, where she was charged with having sex with the same boy in a classroom and her home. [The Marion County case above stems from LaFave having had sex with the boy in an SUV there.]

LaFave claims that she is suffering from a bipolar disorder; however, one author, while agreeing that LaFave may very well have the disorder, says that this is no excuse for her behavior. "It seems to me that Debra didn’t have sex with a 14 year old because she didn’t know what she was doing, or she had bipolar syndrome, but that she had a chance to break a taboo [of having sex with a teenage boy] and she went for it."

In the meantime, LaFave has become engaged, reportedly to high school sweetheart Andrew Beck. [You gotta wonder what this guy is thinking.] No wedding date has been set.

For more information, see:
Charges Dropped in Student Sex Case
Double Standard in Lafave Case?
To the end, a mother protects her son
Debra Lafave: a little girl dying for attention
Debra LaFave engaged: See the ring that proves it

Debra LaFaveTimeline:

May 2004: Greco Middle School (Temple Terrace, FL) teacher Debra Lafave meets the 14-year-old boy whom she will have ultimately have sex with while chaperoning a school field trip to SeaWorld Orlando. She invites him to her class while he is in detention, and ends up taking him to his basketball practices at a recreation center, to get his hair cut, and to his house.

3 June 2004: Lafave begins having sex with the boy starting on June 3rd for a total of five times, encounters that occurred in her Riverview townhouse, her classroom, and in the back of her Isuzu during rides through Ocala, Florida (Marion County). The Isuzu was driven by the boy's 15-year-old cousin. [The cousin will ultimately tell police about LaFave's sexual encounters.] Lafave tells the boy that her marriage was in trouble and that she was aroused by the fact that having sex with him was not allowed.

21 June 2004: Lafave is accused of having sex with a 14-year-old boy. She is arrested in Hillsborough County, and charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a person under the age of 16, each of which carry a maximum 15-year prison term.

25 June 2004: Marion County sheriff's investigators issue a warrant for Lafave's arrest on two additional counts of lewd and lascivious battery and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition, each of which have a maximum 15-year prison term. She turns herself in three days later.

June 2004: Six pictures of LaFave's pelvic area are taken by Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies after she is arrested. The photos were taken to compare descriptions the boy had given of her tan lines, tattoos and pubic hair. [Date uncertain.]

30 November 2004: LaFave's attorney, John Fitzgibbons, says in court that he will file notice of an insanity defense "in the near future." The defense is expected to point to the April 2001 death of Lafave's older sister, Angela Beasley, who was 24 years old and five months pregnant when an intoxicated Army captain, Joseph Piotrowski, plowed his Jeep into her car. Piotrowski is now serving a 30-year prison term for the crime. During Piotrowski's court-martial in August 2001, Lafave testified that she had been depressed, angry and ill since her sister's death. "It's hard to concentrate on anything but that," she said. Her mother, Joyce Beasley, described her as "pretty much a basket case" as a result of her sister's death. Also, LaFave's trial is postponed, with the case going before Judge Wayne Timmerman again on March 22 for a pretrial hearing and the trial beginning April 25.

25 January 2005: Owen LaFave, former husband of Debra LaFave, is interviewed by Larry King. The transcript can be read here.

22 March 2005: At LaFave's pretrial hearing, Judge Timmerman moves the trial back to July 18 as Fitzgibbon requests additional time to interview witnesses and review doctors' reports. He also tells the judge that he will be entering into plea negotiations with the state to prevent the case from going to trial.

18 July 2005: LaFave's trial is pushed back to December 5. The plea deal with Hillsborough County prosecutors falters, according to Fitzgibbon, because prosecutors wanted too much prison time for LaFave. Said Fitzgibbons, "To place an attractive young woman in that kind of hell hole is like putting a piece of raw meat in with the lions. I'm not sure she would survive." Judge Wayne Timmerman agrees to appoint two mental health professionals to evaluate LaFave as Fitzgibbons says he will claim she is not guilty by reason of insanity. "What teacher in her right mind would do something like this?" he said. Prosecutors have said that a state psychologist already determined Lafave was not insane at the time, while one hired by the defense concluded that she was mentally ill.

April 2005: Debra Lafave is divorced from her husband, Owen.

20 September 2005: Hillsborough County Judge Wayne Timmerman seals the photos taken of LaFave's pelvic area after two Tampa TV stations requested that the photos be made public.

3 November 2005: Lisa C. York, 33, files for a protective order against LaFave on behalf of her children. York has two daughters, 12- and two-years-old. The father of the two-year-old girl is Andrew Beck [who is now Debra LaFave's fiance]. Beck also helped to raise the 12-year-old girl.

17 November 2005: York's petition for a protective order is denied. The court said that a protective order would be issued only if there were allegations that LaFave was potentially violent toward the children.

18 November 2005: At the request of prosecutors, state Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman issues a gag order, telling attorneys not to talk publicly about the pending prosecution. Timmerman says he is worried that comments published in the media could prejudice potential jurors and make it difficult to select a panel from the 100-member jury pool that will be called for the December 5th trial. "I don't see what the harm is in telling these guys from this point on, in order to get a fair and impartial jury you guys keep your mouths shut," the judge said. Attorneys for local media outlets opposed the order. A hearing is scheduled for November 22 to discuss the gag order.

22 November 2005: Lafave pleads guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors in Hillsborough and Marion County. She is sentenced to three years of house arrest and seven years' probation. She is now classified as a sex offender.

8 December 2005: Marion County Circuit Judge Hale R. Stancil rejects Lafave's plea deal in Marion County and sets a trial for April 10.

16 March 2006: According to the USA Today, "'Lafave's ex-husband, Owen Lafave ... has a new wife, a new house and a new job. And a huge smile.' According to Owen, his Larry King Live appearance to discuss his ex-wife's sex allegations helped his chances with his new wife."

18 March 2006: The boy's mother speaks out, telling WTVT in Tampa that she does not see that LaFave's alleged bipolar disorder should be used as an excuse. "Do I believe she has bipolar? Absolutely. Am I glad she's getting treatment for it? Yes. But is that an excuse to say, 'I had no idea what I was doing on five different occasions,' when she molested my child, that's a stretch."

21 March 2006: After hearing more testimony, Stancil again rejects Lafave's plea deal. Prosecutors in Marion County respond by dropping all charges against Lafave, allowing her Hillsborough plea deal to stand.

The Deal (Hillsborough County):

Debra Lafave pleaded guilty last November 22 to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery in exchange for this deal:

Three years of house arrest and seven years of probation.

Classification as a sex offender. She can no longer work with or near children and can't live within 1,000 feet of a school, church or playground.

She must wear an ankle monitor and adhere to a 10 p.m. curfew. She must undergo psychological therapy for four years and a polygraph test once a year.

Upon successful completion of the first two years of house arrest, she can ask a judge to waive the last year of home confinement.

Key Players:

Debra LaFave, 25, a former reading teacher at Greco Middle School. She was accused of having sex in 2004 with a 14-year-old student in Hillsborough County and in an SUV in Marion County. She pleaded guilty in Hillsborough in November in exchange for a plea deal with no prison time. She was married at the time, divorced, and is now engaged to be married to high school sweetheart, Andrew Beck. She is currently working as a waitress in a Sun City Center diner, and is thinking of becoming a journalist. "I would hope that I could reach people through my writing."

Anonymous Male Victim, now 16, was a student at Greco, though not in Lafave's class. His mother asked for a plea deal, saying that the worldwide media attention was too much for her son, and that he shouldn't have to testify at trial. The boy is now in high school, likes to play basketball and has said that he wants to go to the University of Florida.

Judge Hale R. Stancil, 60, a judge in the 5th Judicial Circuit, which serves Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties. In December he rejected the plea deal agreed to by Hillsborough and Marion prosecutors and reaffirmed that decision Tuesday. He was a county judge in Marion for many years and took a seat on the circuit bench in 1994.

John Fitzgibbons, 55, the attorney for Lafave. He is a longtime defense attorney and a former federal prosecutor. He drew controversy with his comments last summer about Lafave and prison: "To place an attractive young woman in that kind of hellhole is like placing a piece of raw meat in with the lions. I don't think Debbie could survive it."

Michael Sinacore, 41, the Hillsborough prosecutor who agreed to the plea deal. He has worked for the State Attorney's Office for almost nine years and for the public defender six years before that. He was chief of the state attorney's sex crimes unit for six years and now is felony bureau chief.

CNN Larry King Live: Interview with Owen LaFave
Judge Issues Gag Order in LaFave Teacher Sex Case
Judge Seals Sex Teach Debra LaFave Nude Photos
Lafave case "over for good"
LaFave Case: Timeline
LaFave Case: Key Players
LaFave Photos Sealed
Prosecutors Order Plea Deal for Teacher Debra LaFave
Teacher Accused of Sex with Students Rejects Plea Deal
Teacher in Sex Scandal Engaged to be Married
Teacher Says She was Insane During Sex with Student
Teen's Mother: LaFave Blaming Bipolar Disorder is "A Stretch"
Trial Delayed in Teacher Sex Case
Women Sought to Keep LaFave Away From Her Children

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