Former teacher to use insanity plea against charges of sex with student -
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Former teacher to use insanity plea against charges of sex with student

ABC Action News | November 30, 2004

TAMPA - When a young Hillsborough County teacher was accused this summer of having a sexual affair with a 14-year-old student, many people's first reaction to the notorious case was, 'She's crazy.' Tuesday, Debra Lafave's attorney announced that his client would indeed be using an insanity defense.

Lafave, 24, is facing charges of lewd and lascivious behavior, stemming from accusations that the former Greco Middle School teacher had sex with the student both at school and in a car driven by the student's cousin in Ocala.

The case has garnered international attention, but since turning herself in to police in June, Lafave has kept a low profile. She was ordered to appear at Tuesday's pre-trial hearing, but did not say anything.

In her place, attorney John Fitzgibbons asked the court for a delay because of a shift in his defense tactics.

"To give the court a sense of the case, I anticipate that in the near future, I will be filing a notice of insanity defense. There is some work being done by a doctor…we have accumulated medical records," he told the judge.

Lafave's trial was originally scheduled for December 6. Prosecutors had been forewarned of the new defense tactic, but still said it should push the trial back "a couple months," into next spring.

According to prosecutor Mike Sinacore, the burden is on the defense to prove insanity by meeting two standards.

"The person suffered from mental illness at the time of the offense, and the second prong is to prove that either they did not know what they were doing, or that they did know what they were doing but did not know that it was wrong," he explained.

Given that, it was not clear from either Fitzgibbons' comments or court documents what the reasoning behind the new defense was.

John Fitzgibbons discusses the case as Lafave and her family look on.
"Debbie has some profound emotional issues that are not her fault. I think once anyone reads what the doctors have to say, they will understand a lot more about what happened here," Fitzgibbons said outside court, as Lafave stood silently next to him.

That reasoning may become more clear as the prosecution releases evidence in the case later this week. That is expected to include phone conversations between Lafave and the teen, and store surveillance photos showing them shopping together.

One factor the defense might use to invoke an insanity defense is the recent trauma Lafave's family has been through. Her pregnant sister was killed in a high-profile drunk driving accident three years ago, and Lafave was in court for that trial alongside the rest of her family, who also turned out for Tuesday's hearing.

Her soon-to-be former husband, Owen Lafave, was not there, however. Owen filed for divorce in August and told Action News previously that the case has been like "living a nightmare" for him.

Debbie Lafave also faces similar charges in Marion County.

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