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Lawyer for Hillsborough teacher in sex case seeks to bar steamy text messages

TAMPA — Stephanie Ragusa's attorney says authorities illegally obtained steamy text messages traded between the former teacher and a middle school student.

Lawyer Robert Herce is asking a judge to suppress the messages, the first step in what he hopes will be a successful effort to undermine at least half of the state's sex case against his client.

Ragusa, 30, is accused of having sex with two male students at Davidsen Middle School. She has been in jail 548 days awaiting trial.

While the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office investigated allegations involving one of the boys, they sought and received court permission to obtain more than two weeks' worth of Ragusa's cell phone records from March 2008.

Those records included hundreds of "very incriminating" exchanges between Ragusa and a second boy, according to Herce's motion.

"The sex was amazing," Ragusa wrote to the student in one exchange.

"YES I KNOW!" he replied.

But Herce argues that state law requires a search warrant rather than just a court order to get stored text messages released. And even if a judge decides that a court order was sufficient, Herce says authorities filed a flawed request in this case.

In the coming weeks, he and prosecutors will file written arguments about the motion to suppress with Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman. The judge is expected to rule on Dec. 10.

"I think we have a substantial likelihood of success with this motion," Herce said Tuesday.

If he prevails, he said he will argue that the other evidence authorities gathered against Ragusa in the case of the second teen is poisoned because it resulted from the ill-gotten text messages.

The prosecutor handling the case did not return calls for comment.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Lawyer for Hillsborough teacher in sex case seeks to bar steamy text messages 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 11:22pm]
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