Burien Teacher's Sex With Student Leaves Lives And Trust Shattered -- Prison Possible, But She Hopes To Raise The 14-Year-Old's Baby

Mary Kay LeTourneau had gotten herself into deep trouble, and she knew the trouble was about to get deeper.

Thirty-four years old, a mother of four young children and a highly regarded grade-school teacher, she had just learned she was pregnant. The child was not her husband's.

Worse, much worse, the father was a child himself - a 13-year-old boy she'd mentored since second grade and had taught just a few months earlier, in her sixth-grade class at Shorewood Elementary School in Burien.

LeTourneau knew she wouldn't have an abortion. She also knew that the baby's racial mix meant that the public would eventually learn the truth about what she had done. She sat in her classroom one day and listed the possible consequences, for her and others.

Those consequences have been enormous, worse than she ever thought possible. Her four children have lost their mother, at least temporarily. The boy, who turned 14 one month after his daughter was born in May, is in counseling. Her students have been traumatized. She and her husband are getting a divorce; he's moved out of state.

LeTourneau will never teach again. Her house is for sale.

She is charged with child rape. On Aug. 7, she'll plead guilty. Three weeks later, she'll be sentenced. As part of a plea agreement, she may spend a short time in jail, followed by a treatment program. If the judge turns down the deal, she could be sent to prison for up to seven years.

LeTourneau has said she is deeply ashamed of herself for having had sex with the boy, and for violating the sacred trust of her family, her profession and her society:

"I think what I've done is horrible and I wouldn't want anyone to think I believe it's acceptable. It's not."

Though LeTourneau has been ordered to have no contact with the boy, she continues to hold romantic feelings for him. And the boy's mother, who describes her son as physically and emotionally old beyond his years - "he's never been a typical 13-year-old" - said that he loves LeTourneau back.

Prosecutors and some experts on sexual offenders don't see it that way. They see a woman in denial and a boy who may have been emotionally scarred.

Women who have sex with boys "are more likely to present their crimes as a love affair and much more likely to hold on to that belief," said Florence Wolfe, co-director of Seattle-based Northwest Treatment Associates, which counsels sex offenders. "But it's still exploitation.

"Lots of 13-year-old kids are physically mature, very intelligent. But this business of a 35-year-old woman making a love commitment with a 13-year-old boy is hard to fathom. What 13-year-old has the capacity for that kind of love?"

Joy in work, but not in marriage

Mary Katherine LeTourneau was born one of six children in a strict Catholic family in California. She was popular - smart, pretty, and charming.

At Arizona State University, she met and began dating Steve LeTourneau. When she became pregnant, they married. But it was a union doomed to fail, she now says.

"I love him now as much as I did when I first got married. But how much love? Not enough to hold a marriage."

But even during the most tumultuous periods of the marriage, LeTourneau found joy as a teacher.

"I walked in my classroom every Monday and knew I was in the right place," she said.

There was always a waiting list of students for her class, teachers at Shorewood say. And parents raved to one another about her ability to reach their children.

"The teachers and principals all gave her high marks," said Shirley Hodgson, director of human resources for the Highline School District. "They all thought - and still think - she is a good teacher, a good person."

LeTourneau said it didn't take her long a few years ago to notice the little boy in her second-grade class with extraordinary artistic ability. Something else set him apart, she contended.

"There was a respect, an insight, a spirit, an understanding between us that grew over time," she said. "There was a bonding that was pretty instantaneous. It was the kind of feeling you have with a brother or sister - a feeling that they're part of your life forever.

"But I didn't know what it meant. I felt that one day he might marry my daughter."

LeTourneau said she introduced the boy to the piano and bought him art supplies. He sketched and drew for her. As he went from second to third, fourth and fifth grades, she was no longer his teacher, but, she said, the bond between them grew stronger. By sixth grade, he was in her class again.

By then, she said: "He was my best friend. We just walked together in the same rhythm."

All the while, the boy was maturing. His family had always considered him old beyond his years - his mother said she's often called him "an old soul trapped in a young body."

By then, LeTourneau's stormy marriage was at its ebb.

One day last summer, to show her his affection, the boy surprised her with a silver ring. He later told police that when he placed it on her finger, then reached to take it back, they looked intently at each other. For him, it was a turning point.

It wasn't long after that day that the two first had sex. Prosecutors say that continued until February.

Not long after the sex started, Steve LeTourneau found letters his wife had written to the boy. He went to the boy's home and asked him straight out if he was involved sexually with his wife. The boy admitted that, yes, he was.

For a while, Steve LeTourneau kept his knowledge of his wife's actions, and, later, her pregnancy, to himself. Then he told relatives. One of them told Child Protective Services and Highline School District officials.

`That's not love,' says counselor

To prosecutors and some sexual-deviancy experts, the facts of the case speak for themselves: Mary LeTourneau stole the boy's childhood.

As a consequence, they say she should be imprisoned or, at the least, required to take part in a rigorous sexual-offender program.

"I have no sympathy for her," said Wolfe of Northwest Treatment Associates. "When we hear it here - the proclamation of love - it is a rationalization. Did she care about his welfare, about what could happen to him by becoming a father at 13?

"I don't see where she's acted in (the boy's) best interest. That's not love - that's a big emotional party."

Lucy Berliner, research director of the Harborview Center for sexual assault, expressed similar views.

"The idea that an attractive adult woman would find him very interesting as a partner would be very flattering," Berliner said. "But what's hard to understand is why a teacher, or parent, or any adult would act with such complete disregard considering the impact their actions might have on the child.

"Even if she does genuinely have feelings for him, there is no context for a relationship like this to be normalized."

Further, she said, "No one can know with 100 percent certainty how the boy will be affected."

`I assumed I could trust her'

Not surprisingly, the boy's mother was devastated by the news. She said she'd questioned her son because he and LeTourneau were spending so much time together.

"But he said there was nothing between them. So when I found out there was, I was hurt - hurt because of the trust that was broken. Mary is a mother and I am a mother. And I assumed I could trust her with my son."

She says she has since forgiven LeTourneau. She wants her son to know the baby, whom he intends to one day help raise, and she loves the baby herself.

"I don't condone what happened and have never condoned what happened," she said. "But it did happen, and it's something I have to accept and live with."

For LeTourneau, it remains difficult to face the boy's mother.

"I always want to say to her that I'm sorry."

The boy's family has tried to protect his privacy. He now spends some of his time in Seattle at his family's home, and some with friends in another town - in virtual seclusion.

"He's doing fine as long he's away from the situation and people don't harass him," said his mother.

LeTourneau said she is haunted by what might happen to him. She said she understands that his life will never be the same. "But I know he has a strong spirit and I'm hoping it will carry him through."

The effects of LeTourneau's actions have also been felt at her former school.

A parent whose child was in LeTourneau's class said her daughter was crushed by the teacher's sudden departure.

"We brought in a substitute and she did everything she could to help our children learn, but she just wasn't able to teach them," the parent said. "And we told her it wasn't her fault. They could have brought in Princess Diana and she would not have been able to teach those children."

Prison or treatment await

LeTourneau's attorney, David Gehrke, has told a judge she will plead guilty to child rape at a hearing Aug. 7.

Gehrke said the judge may send her to prison for up to seven years or - he hopes - allow her to enroll in an extensive treatment program for sex offenders.

A psychosexual evaluation done for the court states that LeTourneau "is not criminally oriented, chemically dependent nor sexually obsessed and compelled." The evaluator also noted, though, that LeTourneau "has not resolved her romantic, erotic and sexual feelings" for the boy, but "has the intellectual resources to engage in and successfully complete psychotherapy."

The evaluator concluded: "In my opinion, Ms. LeTourneau does not pose significant risk of a sexual re-offense with the victim or other young males."

LeTourneau's friends and supporters also believe that treatment, not prison, is the answer.

One parent said she was deeply disappointed when she learned about what had happened. But "the way she loves people, the way she cares about people and treats people, I have to say I don't believe she should be sent to Purdy."

At least for now, the state is allowing LeTourneau to keep the baby.

At a dependency hearing earlier this week, a judge said she could continue to raise the child with the help of friends and relatives - namely, the boy's mother. If LeTourneau is sent to prison, the boy's mother hopes to care for the baby until she returns.

LeTourneau says it's the court-ordered loss of her four older children - two boys and two girls ages 3 to 12 - that has been the hardest to bear. For now, they are staying with relatives on the East Coast; she may see them only under supervised conditions.

Even when she was weighing the consequences of going through with the pregnancy, she said, she never imagined that her older children might become motherless because of what she'd done. She thought she and her husband would split up and she and the older children would bring the baby into their fold.

"I understand that I put my children in a fragile position," she said. "But I never expected that I . . . would be in a position that I couldn't protect them. I always thought that together, we could get through this."

She said she is aware the baby one day will have questions about the relationship between her mother and father. So she is writing a journal to give the girl when she's older.

"But this is for the future," she said. "My concern now is the next six months. I don't know where I'm going to be, where her father is going to be."