UPDATE JAN. 26, 2015: The state attorney dismissed all charges against Debra Horne and ended her pretrial agreement 13 months early. (She was offered, and accepted, a pretrial intervention agreement which would have resulted in the full dismissal of charges after 18 months. This was not a plea agreement, and the only plea Horne ever entered was "Not Guilty." Horne maintained her innocence throughout.) Horne was never arrested or charged with a crime, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has issued an Order to Expunge any record of her arrest in this matter.
BRADENTON, Fla. - Former Manatee County School District investigator Debra Horne will be tried by herself. A Manatee County Circuit judge agreed to separate Horne's trial from the other 3 former district employees involved in the Rod Frazier investigation.
"She runs the risk of not getting a fair trial if she were tried with the other 3," said Horne's attorney Derek Byrd. Horne is among the 4 former Manatee County School District administrators facing felony charged stemming from the Rod Frazier investigation. Prior to Monday, the judge would have heard all four case together. But a motion to separate Horne's case was granted and Byrd says the move was necessary.
"You run the risk that someone wont get a fair trail because if a jury is sitting there hearing information about your co-defendant that really doesn't apply to you, their is a risk that the jury may find you guilty by association," Byrd added.
Horne is charged with failure to report suspected child abuse. But, from the beginning of the investigation she has maintained her innocence. And her attorney says the evidence supports her stance.
"I don't think that with the information that they've gathered would meet the definition of child abuse and frankly my client didn't suspect it because she didn't believe the person she was talking to," said Byrd.
In addition, Byrd says Horne was following the directions of those above her. "I find it difficult to prosecute someone particularly under a fairly new law when she went to her superiors, mostly notably the school board's lawyer asking what she should do. And, they told her to do nothing. "
The Manatee County School District conducted its own investigation in to the case, which is separate from the criminal investigation. Those findings support the idea that Horne was following the directives of her superiors. But page 4 of the report says "During her investigation, Horne allowed others to influence and taint her investigation. Horne’s impaired judgment and neglectful handling of her investigation placed the safety and wel-lbeing of students at risk."
The Manatee County School District investigation was conducted to determine if those involved in the Frazier investigation could keep their jobs. But Horne has decided to retire and if approved it would take effect November 2nd.