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Guilty of sex with student, teacher avoids prison

Attorney abandons insanity defense in plea deal for 'tired' client

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Debra Lafave leaves the courthouse Tuesday after pleading guilty to two counts of lewd behavior.

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Crime, Law and Justice
Florida

(CNN) -- In a last-minute effort to keep herself out of prison, a 25-year-old middle school teacher pleaded guilty Tuesday to having sex with a 14-year-old.

Debra Lafave, a former remedial reading teacher at Greco Middle School in Temple Terrace, Florida, pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior, and was sentenced to three years of house arrest followed by seven years probation. She also must register as a sex offender.

She could have faced up to 15 years for each count filed in Hillsborough County. She also could have been charged in Marion County, because one of the incidents happened there.

"I want to apologize to the court, to the young man involved and to his family for my actions," Lafave said. "I accept full responsibility for my actions, and I am very sorry for everything which has occurred." (Watch as she makes her court appearance -- 1:03)

A 14-year-old boy told investigators he had sex with Lafave three times in four days in June 2004, according to court documents. One of those times was in a car while his 15-year-old cousin drove them around, he told authorities.

He also said she performed oral sex on him multiple times, including once at her home, the documents said.

Defense attorney John Fitzgibbons said he began negotiating the plea deal Monday after he deposed the boy's cousin.

"We believe that this was a very fair resolution of this case," Fitzgibbons said, adding that Lafave avoided prison time with the plea and will be allowed to continue her mental health treatment.

"Very importantly, it allows the young man involved here to go on with his life, just as Debbie can go on with her life," he said. "He does not have to participate in a trial or deposition."

Fitzgibbons had originally planned an insanity defense, saying earlier this year that Lafave had "some profound emotional issues" and that "once anyone reads what the doctors have to say, they will understand a lot more."

Asked how she felt after the plea deal was announced, Lafave said only, "Tired."

It was a change of heart by the boy's parents that made the plea deal possible. At first, they had insisted that Lafave serve at least three years in prison, but they recently relented, allowing prosecutors to strike the deal before the trial began.

"Because of the media coverage of these cases, I fear that proceeding to trial will negatively affect my son's emotional and psychological well-being," the boy's mother said in an affidavit filed in Hillsborough County on Tuesday.

She added that her son did not want to testify and merely "wants to resume his life in as normal a manner as possible."

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