It’s about time a judge stood up for the rule of law and treated the Lafave case for what it was. As soon as the original plea deal was announced most everyone shook their head and said the sentence was too light. It immediately set off a firestorm and criticism of a double standard that “kept the attractive, young media darling out of prison”.A Marion County Judge rejected the plea deal. Debra Lafave faces similar charges in Marion County as she did in Hillsborough County because one of the alleged sexual incidents took place there.
“The agreement went below the guidelines, and I’m not willing to go below the guidelines,” Judge Hale Stancil told CNN, without elaborating.
The trial in Marion County for the 25-year-old former reading teacher is set for April 10.
Defense attorneys had sought to spare their client a prison sentence, which they were able to do with the plea agreement in Hillsborough County. Lafave pleaded guilty there on November 22 to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior.
ABC Action News: In surprise move, Marion County judge rejects Lafave plea deal
It looks like the plea deal that kept Debra Lafave out of prison was too good to be true after all.
Thursday afternoon, a judge in Marion County rejected the plea arrangement that had previously looked like a done deal in Hillsborough County, meaning the former teacher will be going to trial next spring on charges of sexual battery.
“The court is not going to, at this time, accept the plea that has been presented,” Judge Hale Stancel stated.
With what was expected to be a stamp of approval from the Marion County Judge turned out to be far from it today in court.
Based on that last allegation, Lafave faced charges in both Hillsborough and Marion counties. Her November plea deal with prosecutors in Hillsborough — which left her with three years of house arrest, seven years of probation, and status as a sex offender — was said to include the Marion County charges. The judge’s stamp of approval was expected to be a formality today, but he rejected the deal and set an April trial date.
“There were some unexpected developments today in court. I really don’t want to comment on those developments. I anticipate that we will be here in the next couple of weeks,” John Fitzgibbons said. Prosecutors even seemed surprised by the turn of events.
Judging from the glare on Debra Lafave’s mothers face and attorney’s reaction, someone has some explaining to do. A defendant agreeing to a plea deal that is supposed to encompass both county’s charges, only to have it fall through. Someone did not dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Ouch. The trial is expected to go forward in Marion, despite the wishes of the victim’s family.
Tampa Bay News 10: LaFave’s attorney reacts to plea rejection
Attorney John Fitzgibbons says Debra Lafave was obviously upset by the events in court on Thursday. Fitzgibbons says that was clear from the tears in her eyes. LaFave’s mother also appeared to be moved to tears because of the judge’s decision.
Fitzgibbons told me the events were “not a total surprise.” Fitzgibbons says after practicing law for several years, he never counts on a judge going along with a plea agreement until it is signed, sealed and delivered. Now Debra Lafave finds herself between the proverbial rock.
“If it goes to trial, Debbie can withdraw her plea in Hillsborough”
However that is not likely to happen, because it would be a huge gamble that the insanity plea would work. LaFave also isn’t facing any jail time in Hillsborough. Meantime while the judge has jurisdiction over the case, “the Marion state attorney could end the case by dropping all the charges”
That too isn’t likely, because the state attorney has to stand for re-election. That could be political suicide if the charges are dropped, even though the state attorney was not pleased with the judge’s decision.