Judge Stancil"s Order Rejecting Debra Lafave Plea Agreement (2)
The charges in this case stem from allegations of sexual relations between a 23-year-old female teacher (who is now 25 years old) and a 14-year-old boy (who is now 16 years old), one instance of which was witnessed by the boy's 15-year-old cousin (who is now 17 years old). The factual basis for the plea, as proffered by the State, is as follows: On or about June 15, 2004, the Defendant transported the then-14-year-old victim M.M.
in her vehicle from Hillsborough County, Florida to Ocala, Marion County, Florida. The Defendant and the victim were previously acquainted, as the Defendant was a teacher at the middle school M.M. had attended. Upon arriving in Ocala, the Defendant and M.M. picked up M.M.'s then-15-year-old cousin B.B. With the Defendant's consent, B.B. drove her vehicle on State Road 200 in Ocala, while the Defendant and M.M. engaged in sexual activity in the back of the vehicle. B.B. was aware of the sexual activity taking place in the vehicle, and saw the sexual activity in the rear-view mirror of the Defendant's vehicle. On or about June 17, 2004, the Defendant again transported M.M. in her vehicle from Hillsborough County, Florida to Ocala, Marion County, Florida. The Defendant and M.M. again picked up B.B., whereupon they drove to Brick City Park in Ocala and parked the Defendant's vehicle. After B.B. exited the vehicle, the Defendant and M.M. again engaged in sexual activity in the back of the vehicle.
Shortly thereafter, M.M. and B.B. disclosed these events to their mothers, who notified law enforcement. On June 28, 2004, the Defendant was arrested and charged in Marion County with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a child and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition.
The parties have set forth several arguments for this Court to consider in determining whether to accept the proposed plea agreement. The State has made it clear that the victim's family wishes the case to be concluded without a trial,2 and the Defendant has made it clear that she will not agree to any sentence of imprisonment. The parties assert, as their main justification for the proposed plea agreement, that the victim does not wish to testify at trial and that it would be detrimental to the victim to do so. The victim's family believes that he would be traumatized by testifying at trial and receiving increased media attention. The family is also concerned that if this case proceeds to trial their privacy will be compromised by the intense media attention this case continues to receive.
The State called two witnesses at the March 8, 2006 hearing: Assistant State Attorney Michael Sinacore, of the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office, and Dr. Martin Lazoritz, a licensed psychiatrist and associate chairman of the University of Florida Department of Psychiatry. Mr. Sinacore testified that he only agreed to a plea without any term of imprisonment at the insistence of the victim's mother, who felt that her family's privacy was being compromised by the media and that a trial would further traumatize her son. Mr. Sinacore further testified about his negotiations with Court TV, which intended to broadcast the Defendant's trial. The attorneys for Court TV would agree not to show the victim's face when he testified, but would not agree not to show the victims' mothers when they testified and would not agree to delay the broadcast in case the victims' names were inadvertently mentioned by one of the 40-50 potential witnesses. Mr. Sinacore did not indicate whether he had interviewed the victim M.M. regarding the incidents in question or his impressions of M.M's ability to testify and withstand the rigors of cross-examination.
Dr. Lazoritz testified that he met with victim M.M. and his mother for approximately 90 minutes. Dr. Lazoritz testified that the victim is suffering from anxiety about his relationship with the Defendant, which has been compounded by the media coverage the case has received, and has an adjustment disorder, meaning simply that he is responding to a stressor. Dr. Lazoritz also testified that the victim "had a very difficult time talking about things." He stated that the victim wishes to go to the University of Florida, play basketball, and live in anonymity. He further explained that the victim is afraid that if the case proceeded to trial he would always be plagued by it. Dr. Lazoritz expressed his opinion that it would be detrimental to the victim's emotional well-being to testify at trial. Dr. Lazoritz believes that if this case were concluded without the victim having to testify at trial, he would continue to improve, but would likely deteriorate if the case proceeded to trial.