TAMPA, Fla. – A female teacher whose sexual liaisons with a 14-year-old middle school student made tabloid headlines has avoided prison time by pleading guilty to having sex with the boy in a classroom and at her home.
Debra Lafave, 25, will serve three years of house arrest and seven years of probation. She pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery. If convicted at trial in Hillsborough County, she could have faced up to 15 years in prison on each count.
Lafave's ex-husband, Owen Lafave, said Wednesday that she was being treated for mental problems when she committed the crime, but it was a double standard that she avoided prison.
"She is a sexual offender and if it were a male she would have definitely gotten jail time," he said in a television interview Wednesday.
The victim's mother said after Tuesday's hearing that the public scrutiny had taken its toll on the family.
"If we had continued along this path, this would have followed him forever," said the mother, whose name was being withheld to protect her son's identity. "My prayer is that he can leave this behind him and go on and be a happy, healthy young man."
The victim's mother said the boy is "well-adjusted" and shows no signs of having been traumatized.
The boy told investigators he and Lafave had sex in a classroom at the school, located in Temple Terrace near Tampa, in her Riverview town house and once in a vehicle while his 15-year-old cousin drove them around Marion County.
The boy said he and Lafave, a newlywed at the time, got to know each other on their way back from a class trip to SeaWorld Orlando in May 2004. He also said Lafave told him her marriage was in trouble and that she was aroused by the fact that having sex with him was not allowed.
Lafave apologized during the hearing Tuesday, saying that "I accept full responsibility for my actions."
The plea agreement also was designed to resolve similar charges in Marion County, where Lafave was scheduled to appear in court Dec. 8. But prosecutor Ric Ridgeway said his office wants to speak with the boy's family first.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman said LaFave will forever lose her teaching certificate, must register with the state as a sexual predator, may not have any contact with children including the victim, and will not be allowed to profit from the sale of her story or personal appearances.
After Tuesday's hearing, Lafave's attorney, John Fitzgibbons, said the plea was "a fair resolution of this case."