TAMPA — Five weeks after giving birth to premature twin boys she cares for "24/7," Debra Lafave on Thursday won early release from the probation she got for having sex in 2005 with a 14-year-old boy.
Now 31, the former teacher won sympathy from Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman, who told her he himself is a father of three. He joked that twin boys might be more curse than blessing later on and congratulated her for completing community control that is so rigorous most fail.
Lafave said very little. The courtroom was packed with cameras. Her attorney, John Fitzgibbons, said she's engaged to a restaurateur, has completed her required community service and sex offender classes, and has paid $13,000 in court fees by working two jobs.
Her two-month-premature babies, he said, now weigh 5 pounds each and just got home from the hospital.
But before the judge ruled, a sister of Lafave's victim — who is now 21 and in college — said her brother's mental health has been devastated. The sister was allowed to testify after giving only her initials.
Her voice shook.
"This is something that has consumed his life," she said. Her brother remains under psychiatric care, she said, and was also opposed to an early end to probation.
In a tense exchange with the judge, Assistant State Attorney Michael Sinacore said Timmerman had broken the negotiated plea Lafave agreed to six years ago to avoid a potential 30-year prison term. In the agreement she signed, she promised to fully complete probation.
Sinacore said the victim's family had agreed to a lenient sentence only to spare the boy from a sensationalized trial.
"Basically," Sinacore told the judge, "you've told the parties the agreement did not matter."
"Don't put words in my mouth," Timmerman warned.
Sinacore said he would challenge the ruling.
The decision means Lafave no longer has to keep a curfew between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., or keep a log of her driving, and can now travel wherever she wants.
Timmerman already had allowed her to have unsupervised contact with anyone under 18 in 2009, after she completed her sex offender therapy.
Now Lafave is no longer required to see a mental health counselor. Attorney Fitzgibbons said she has stopped taking psychiatric medicine, but still sees a psychiatrist.
In 2005, the former Greco Middle School teacher pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery. She was sentenced to three years of house arrest and seven years of probation. She also was classified as a sex offender.
Lafave will remain a registered sex offender for the rest of her life. That means she will have to notify a sheriff's office any time she changes her address. She'll also have to identify herself as a sex offender when she renews her driver's license.
The judge noted that Lafave can never teach school again in Florida.
Fitzgibbons said it was unclear whether Lafave will continue to be barred from living within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park or playground — a state requirement for sex offenders whose victims are younger than 16. The issue wasn't brought up in court Thursday.
Before ruling in Lafave's favor, Timmerman described shots he'd taken from Nancy Grace — "a talking head on TV."
In November 2005, Grace blasted Timmerman on CNN: "The Hillsborough judge swallowed the deal like it was chocolate pudding. It tasted great going down."
On Thursday, the judge said Grace thinks she's an Oliver Wendell Holmes and a Clarence Darrow.
"She's had no effect on my decisions whatsoever."
John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.