Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Anyone She Wanted: The Sexual Offense of Debra Lafave

Deal or No Deal?

Probing depositions began, and then a pretrial hearing in March. Journalists were on hand from all over to cover it, possibly to see what Lafave would wear to court. A delay was requested and granted to June 16. The prosecutor indicated that their medical experts had found no reason to accept that Lafave was anything but sane when she had involved the child in a sexual relationship. The phone calls attested to a calm state of mind. Word also came that M. M.'s mother was requesting a plea deal so they could avoid the exposure of a trial. Another delay pushed proceedings back yet another month, with a hearing scheduled for July.

LaFave & Fitzgibbons
LaFave & Fitzgibbons

Before that occurred, another Florida teacher was sentenced to prison for having sex with underage boys — two of them. That provided incentive to take talks of a plea deal seriously.

The prosecutor's deal included prison time, which Lafave refused to accept. To drum up sympathy, Fitzgibbons made a controversial statement for reporters: "To place Debbie into a Florida state women's penitentiary, to place an attractive young woman in that kind of hellhole, is like putting a piece of raw meat with lions. I'm not sure that Debbie would be able to survive." Apparently, a pretty girl should be given more consideration than one not so physically fortunate. (Owen interpreted the remarks as a coded message for the boy, to persuade him to get his parents to loosen up.)

The judge set a new trial date for December, and both sides prepared to move forward. Neither seemed likely to give in. Fitzgibbons argued that the photographs taken of Lafave's private parts for evidence should not be used in the court room, due to their graphic nature. He labeled them pornography. Apparently, the prosecutor accepted this.

But then something unforeseen occurred. When it appeared that Court TV and other interested parties would be allowed to set up cameras in the courtroom, the boy's mother, wishing to keep her son's name and likeness out of the press, reluctantly agreed to a plea deal that took prison time off the table. That was a win for Lafave.

On November 22, 2005, she pled guilty and received three years of house arrest and seven years of probation. She had to register as a sex offender, which meant her address and information would be given to neighbors, and was not to have any unauthorized contact with children. She also had to go through a treatment program.

However, she had made the mistake of having sexual contact with M. M. in two different jurisdictions, and the judge in the other county was not quite so inclined to let her off the hook.

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