Debra Lafave, the Florida teacher who made national news in 2004 when she was arrested for having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old student, is apparently now living a quiet life as a mother and Christian. Joe Zuniga, a Latin recording artist and author, who has known Lafave for over a decade told People that she is a “completely different person” now.
“She’s a completely different person when she was when she was 24,” said Zuniga, who penned a self-published book, Debra Lafave: A Crown of Beauty for Ashes, about her life. “She has grown up a lot. She has become a Christian, and she’s a great mom. She recently got married, and she just ignores the media. She knows it will always be there, but she focuses on her life now. It’s very normal.”
Lafave was arrested in June 2004 after the student told police that his English teacher, who was a newly married 24 year old at the time, had sex with him three times in four days. As People reported, she and her husband divorced soon after, and she pleaded guilty in November 2006 to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Lafave could have faced up to 30 years in prison, but the victim’s mother did not want to subject the boy to a highly publicized trial. Instead, Lafave entered a plea deal and was sentenced to three years house arrest, seven years probation, and treatment as a sex offender. A judge ended her probation four years early, in 2014. In court, she offered her “deepest apologies” to the boy and his family and said she was “deeply remorseful” for her behavior.
“My greatest regret would probably be the fact that I put this young man through this,” she said.
In the book, Zuniga wrote that his friend had a very difficult childhood and adolescence that included being raped at 13 and undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder. In the 13 years since her arrest, she has been married twice more. She gave birth to twin boys in 2011, and Zuniga said she has grown emotionally and spiritually.
“She is very good-hearted, and she does a lot for other people,” Zuniga told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this year.
She currently lives in the Tampa suburbs and is regularly recognized because, according to Zuniga, the now 37-year-old “looks the exact same.” People reported that she has completed her required community service and sex offender classes and paid back the $13,000 court fees. As a registered sex offender, she must regularly check in with the state of Florida to give her whereabouts.
Having stayed largely out of the spotlight, Zuniga wants people to know that Lafave recognizes the seriousness of her crime.
“She makes no excuses for what she did,” he told People. “She has always owned up to it. She says, ‘If I could turn back time, I’d never would do that.’ She understands that she didn’t just negatively affect her life, but she hurt many other people, and she is still very sorry for it.”
He said she has never come forward to tell her story because “she wants to just live her life as a wife and mom,” and he has a message for those who continue to send hate mail and hurl insults.
“There are always people who make ugly faces,” he said. “For me, judging is for God.”