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Leave Debra Alone, Already

Last week, a Florida county judge rejected former teacher Debra LaFave’s plea bargain, raising the specter of a trial in the sensational case – a trial no one wants.

In case you’ve been in a long-term coma, Debra LaFave, an attractive 23-year-old Tampa, Florida area reading teacher, was charged in June, 2004 with various crimes, because she allegedly had sex several times with a 14-year-old boy. She was arrested, strip-searched, and her nether-regions were photographed (for necessary evidentiary purposes, of course). Saucy photos of her posing in a motorcycle magazine were discovered and posted on the internet. The story was all over cable TV, night after night. Her cuckolded husband has appeared on several TV news shows, showing little sympathy. Her lawyer eventually announced plans to use an insanity defense at trial, and there was no sign of a plea bargain, until….

In late November of this year, a plea bargain was reached between the district attorney’s office and her common sense-less defense attorney, who had previously been videotaped stating that Debra was too attractive to go to prison, implying that she'd be, at minimum, figuratively eaten alive by packs of burly prison-mates. This may, in fact, be a realistic assessment, but announcing it to the world – while your pretty client is standing right there at your side – shows a severe lack of judgment. Debra was there again by his side, smiling sweetly, when he announced the plea deal, which was almost certain to outrage her detractors. (Lightning strikes twice….)

The plea bargain wasn’t much of a bargain, in my opinion. Ms. LaFave would have had to lose her teaching license forever, endure three years of house arrest, and then seven years of probation. She would have had to register with the state as a sexual predator, and not have any contact with any children on the planet. She wouldn’t be allowed to profit from the sale of her story or personal appearances. How is this a great deal for the woman? Yes, she avoids incarceration, but how is she supposed to earn a living?

The claws of cable TV’s newswomen sprang out like those of jungle cats last week, at the news of the junked plea bargain. Nancy Grace of CNN, in particular, had nothing but hysterical venom for Debra, as if she were evil incarnate: “… This grade school teacher had a schoolboy in the back of an SUV, having full-blown sex with an underage child. She went across the county lines from Hillsborough to Marion. OK. The Hillsborough judge swallowed the deal, again, like it was chocolate pudding. It tasted great going down. The Marion County judge said, Oh, no, no, no, no, no. No, no. This is sex with a minor. You`re not getting straight probation.”

I’m not saying that I approve of sex between an adult and a minor, but keep in mind that this minor was of the opposite gender, and well into puberty. Inasmuch as a 14-year-old can give consent, he obviously gave it. Okay, Debra seems a little wacky, but like it or not, being seduced by a young blonde bombshell is not the same as a 300-lb. middle-aged spinster forcing herself on a timid “bookworm” type of adolescent. To me, it seems fairly obvious that your gender pretty much determines your view of this case.

Sure, Debra made a serious mistake; she had sex with a boy. She is obviously not a sexual predator, however, and a few years of probation would be penalty enough for her. Instead, a year-and-a-half after the misconduct, she continues to be hounded, because of a little tyrant on a bench somewhere in Florida. By the way, I haven’t seen or heard any information about the “honorable” judge. I wonder what crimes he’s committed over the years, in the name of justice or not, with the impunity provided by his black robe? Why aren’t the news media saying anything about him?

It was all settled; case closed. Then some local judge, with a bug up his butt or a Puritanical streak in his spine, decided in petty fury he wouldn’t accept the deal. This was the first time I, and doubtless other Americans, learned that judges have the power to disapprove of plea bargains. Whether or not you approve of plea bargains, I fail to understand why the judge, essentially a third party, should have any input into these commonplace negotiations. In any case, he is a fool if he thinks any jury with half a dozen normal men on it will convict Ms. LaFave.

Even the victim’s mother has come out against a trial, fearing that it would hinder her son’s potential for a normal life going forward. So no one wants it, except some obscure, minor league jurist, sitting behind the aegis of a judicial bench (who, I suspect, secretly wants to get a look at the nude “evidentiary” photos and pound his gavel) and, of course, the entertainment/news media, and voyeurs like myself.

The only thing that can emerge from this trial, should it come to pass, is another exposé of the pathetic nature of our legal system. This would be the biggest farce since the O.J. Simpson trial, and everyone on Earth would once again see how stupid and broken our criminal justice system really is. The only way to avoid it is to leave Debra alone, already.

December 15, 2005

Andrew S. Fischer has worked in various fields.

Andrew S. Fischer