Lafave's Lawyer Says She's Changed

ByABC News via logo

March 22, 2006 — -- When Debra Lafave, the former Tampa, Fla., teacher accused of having sex with her 14-year-old student, learned that state prosecutors had dropped charges against her, she called her ordeal "a bump in the road."

"I'm a strong Christian woman and I believe God has a path for me and this was just a bump in the road," she said.

John Fitzgibbons, Lafave's lawyer, acknowledged that Lafave referring to having sex with her student as a "bump in the road" could offend people, but said she was also referring to her struggle with bipolar disorder.

"Well, yes, but on the other hand she suffers from a serious mental illness and there were six psychiatrists who were prepared to testify had we gone to trial that she is indeed mentally ill," he told "Good Morning America." "She is being treated now and is a different person than she was a couple of years ago and she recognizes how serious that situation was."

He also said this was Lafave's way of showing optimism for what lies ahead.

"This has been a long ordeal," Fitzgibbons told "Good Morning America," "but she's optimistic and I think she's looking at this on a long-term basis and she'll go on with her life and have a good life."

Florida state prosecutors dropped charges against Lafave, 25, after a Marion County judge rejected their second plea agreement. The plea agreement would not have required Lafave to serve any time in prison.

Still, Lafave isn't going completely without punishment. In November, a judge in Hillsborough County sentenced her to three years of house arrest and seven years probation, after she pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery under a plea deal there. She had been charged with having sex with the boy in a classroom and at her home.

Her lawyer said that the charges in Marion County, related to an incident in which she allegedly had sex with her student in her sport utility vehicle as the boy's cousin drove, might have been dropped because of her mental illness.

"I think that was a big factor, plus the wishes of the family and the young man not to go forward with this case," Fitzgibbons said. "I think in summary, this was a good result for everyone."

"And I'm confident that this would never, ever happen again and probably would not have had she been properly diagnosed and received the proper medications," he added.