Treatment, Not Time -- Letourneau Sentenced For Student's Rape -- Victim's Family Sought Leniency For Teacher

Sentencing Mary Kay LeTourneau to a treatment program for sexual offenders rather than a long prison term is appropriate for her case and not unusual, according to two local legal experts.

LeTourneau, the former Burien schoolteacher who pleaded guilty to two counts of child rape for her affair with a 13-year-old former student, yesterday was given a suspended 7 1/2-year prison sentence in a case that has received international attention.

King County Superior Court Judge Linda Lau also ordered her into a treatment program for sex offenders after serving another 80 days in jail

Because of the details of the case, LeTourneau, 35, is an appropriate candidate for community-based treatment, said John La Fond, a law professor at Seattle University and an expert on sexual offenders and the law.

"The crime was a lot more of heart than exploitation," he said, noting that she was involved with one boy, not multiple victims.

John Strait, another Seattle U. law professor, said the sentence was not unusual in LeTourneau's case. One in four child molesters is given an alternative sentence, he said.

Strait said some child sex offenders choose prison over treatment. "Many people eligible for it don't want it," he said. "It involves pretty invasive therapy and some folks would rather do time."

Both the victim's family and LeTourneau's estranged husband said she should receive treatment rather than jail time. LeTourneau gave birth to the student's child in May.

But Kathleen Docherty, a state community corrections officer, proposed a seven-year, five-month term - at the top of the range - saying LeTourneau could receive adequate treatment in prison.

Deputy Prosecutor Lisa Johnson had sought a 6 1/2-year prison term, in the middle of the standard range.

Judge Lau said yesterday at the sentencing at the Regional Justice Center in Kent that she is satisfied LeTourneau can benefit from treatment and does not pose a risk to the rest of the community.

But she sternly warned LeTourneau to stay away from the young victim or risk serving the prison sentence.

"Whether you stay out of prison is completely within your hand. It will not be easy," the judge said.

LeTourneau tearfully addressed the judge before the sentence was imposed.

"I did something I had no right to do," she said. "Morally or legally, it was wrong. I give you my word that it wouldn't happen again . . . Please help me. Please help me."

Among the conditions Lau imposed:

-- Within five days of her release, she must enter a treatment program for sex offenders and must comply with any and all provisions.

-- She will be under the supervision of a community corrections officer and must abide by all terms of her supervision.

-- She must take all prescribed medications and not use alcohol.

-- She must avoid all contact with her victim.

The case has received widespread attention. More than 100 reporters from national and international news organizations attended the sentencing.

It is unclear whether LeTourneau would be able to realize any benefits from the case through possible book or movie deals because she is bound by the so-called "Son of Sam law," which says she can't profit as a result of the case. That law, however, is yet to be tested in court, noted Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County prosecutor.

LeTourneau, a popular and well-regarded teacher in the Highline School District, pleaded guilty in August to two counts of second-degree child rape of the boy she'd taught in both the second and sixth grades.

She was a married mother of four when she began having sex with him in the summer of 1996, after his sixth-grade year. LeTourneau maintained they planned the pregnancy together and exchanged rings.

Dr. Julia Moore of Federal Way, a psychiatrist and former sexual-deviancy consultant on state prisoners and King County jail inmates, testified that LeTourneau had been responding well to a medication she was prescribed by a jail psychiatrist and began taking Nov. 1.

The medication is intended to alleviate the effects of bipolar disorder, which Moore said probably had afflicted LeTourneau from age 15. Bipolar disorder is a chemical condition of the brain that subjects its sufferers to wild mood swings and erratic behavior.

Moore said LeTourneau's condition worsened in 1995 when she began having marital problems. A turning point of sorts came in October 1995, when LeTourneau learned her father was dying of cancer.

"From Mary's point of view, it felt like she died. She was devastated. She was paralyzed. She felt like she lost the man of her life," said Moore, who diagnosed LeTourneau with bipolar disorder.

"When she turned to her husband (Steve) to ask him to help her," Moore testified, "he responded to her, `What do you want me to do about it?' in a very hostile way. That, to Mary, meant the end of her marriage."

Three months later, she said, LeTourneau suffered a miscarriage, and had entered a "nervous-breakdown mode" when the relationship with the student began.

The boy told authorities they had sex about six times over the next year, usually at her home or in the back of her car. LeTourneau, he said, warned him of devastating consequences if he told anyone about it.

The relationship was revealed in February when LeTourneau's husband found love letters to the boy. One of the husband's relatives eventually phoned the school district, which alerted police. She was arrested but was allowed to remain out of jail until she gave birth in May.

The baby is being cared for by the boy's mother, but LeTourneau is expected to be allowed to take custody within a month or so after she is released from jail.

LeTourneau's estranged husband now lives with their four children - ages 12, 10, 5 and 3 - in Alaska. He is seeking a divorce.

Steve LeTourneau was in court with his lawyer yesterday but would not comment afterward.

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Gilmore is included in this report.