TAMPA — Two years after her mug shot smiles made her famous, former Davidsen Middle School teacher Stephanie Ragusa is scheduled to stand trial Monday for the first of three arrests in which she is accused of having sex with teenage students.
Monday's trial centers on sexual encounters she allegedly had with a boy between Oct. 1, 2006 and May 4, 2007, beginning when he was 14 and stretching past his 15th birthday. In that case, she is charged with three counts of lewd or lascivious battery, all second-degree felonies. Each carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Ragusa, 31, also faces the accusation of a relationship with another student when he was 16 years old, with charges including lewd or lascivious battery, unlawful sexual activity with a minor and contributing to the delinquency or dependency of a child. They had sex about 20 times, deputies said. She was arrested a third time in the spring of 2008 after, deputies said, she had sex with the student after her second arrest.
Because of the national attention her case has received, defense attorney Robert Herce said the goal is to find enough jurors who can be impartial. If he can't, he said he'll ask that the trial be moved out of Tampa.
Jury selection will move slower than it would in a typical case if Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe grants a request Herce plans to make to question potential jurors individually instead of as a group.
The alleged victim in Monday's trial met the teacher when she had a broken foot, He was assigned to help her get around the middle school, deputies said. As he pushed her wheelchair into an elevator, deputies said she told him he was shy, and that she could help break him of that.
She brought the boy to her apartment that afternoon, a warrant says, and they had sex for the first time. He ditched an after-school program, but she brought him back to the school in time for his stepmother to pick him up.
After speaking on the phone over the next several weeks, the warrant says, she picked him up at home one night while his parents were sleeping and they had sex in the back seat of her Lexus SUV. And the warrant says that on May 4, 2007, the boy skipped his eighth-grade dance, got a ride from Ragusa to an after-hours party, and had sex with her again on Gant Road in Carrollwood.
A school resource officer found out and the boy talked to detectives. He described two tattoos, including a flower in an area that deputies said could be visible only without clothes.
Steamy text messages exchanged between Ragusa and her two alleged victims won't be used as evidence. Herce argued that officers found the text messages without a search warrant and a judge agreed.
With that victory now won, Herce plans to make another motion, to now suppress all evidence gained from information in those text messages, including the identity of the 16-year-old boy. That could potentially dismiss all charges involving Ragusa's second victim.
Apart from that motion, which will come after next week's case is resolved, Herce would not reveal other parts of his plan to defend Ragusa.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354.