Rape, Or True Love?

LeTourneau Continues Tie With Teen Student

The story of Seattle schoolteacher Mary Kay LeTourneau and her 13-year-old student stirred a national debate: Was it love, or rape?

48 Hours first explored the issue of LeTourneau's relationship with her student a year ago. Now Correspondent Harold Dow revisits LeTourneauÂ's life.

LeTourneau landed in prison after a sexual encounter with a male student. Popular with both students and teachers, she was married, with four children and a brilliant teaching career. Why did she take the risk of throwing it all away?

"I believe that she thinks she truly is in love with him," said Susan Murphy, a teacher who worked with LeTourneau. "You could not do the things that she has done, you could not give up what she has given up if you didn't believe that."

In 1997, LeTourneau, then 36, shocked her community and family when it was discovered that she was having an affair with one of her sixth-grade students and was pregnant with his child. She pleaded guilty to rape.

Experts agreed that LeTourneau did not fit the profile of a rapist. She had married her college sweetheart, was very religious, and was the daughter of a former California state senator - known for his conservative views.

Experts testified in court that LeTourneau was manic- depressive and needed treatment. But why was she so obsessed with this boy?

Some said he really is an extraordinary person.

"He's a seductive, handsome young man, and she's having a bad time in her marriage, a real bad time in her marriage," said Jon Kle, a New York filmmaker who spent hours interviewing the boy Vili Fualaau and LeTourneau.

"She finds out that her father is dying of cancer. Mary needed attention, and this boy - man - he was in the right place at the right time," he said.

In an interview with a Seattle television station, Vili, 14 at the time, compared their relationship to Romeo and Juliet.

"One night, we went up to a church," he told the interviewer. "We stood before God. We promised we would be together."

Is it possible for a 36 year-old woman to fall in love with someone so young? Some experts said yes.

"I believe it's possible and perhaps even probable that Mary Kay LeTourneau has fallen in love with this young boy," said Dr. Fred Berlin, the founder of the sexual disorders clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"Having said that, I don't think it's a healthy kind of love; I don't think it's good for her or for him," he said.

The boy may not have been harmed by the relationship, he said: "Not every child is invariably or inevitably harmed by this kind of relationship. It was wrong but not necessarily permanently damaging."

In court, LeTourneau was given a second chance: mandatory therapy and less than six months in jail. She was forbidden from having any contact whatsoever with the boy. A seemingly contrite LeTourneau gave the judge her word thashe would abide by those rules.

But less than 30 days after getting out of jail, LeTourneau, now a registered sex offender, was caught with Vili, in a car at 2:40 a.m. The car was stuffed with clothes, $6,200 in cash and her passport hidden under the floor mat.

Authorities discovered that Letourneau had become pregnant a second time by the boy. Once again, LeTourneau was back in court, asking for leniency. This time the judge was less forgiving. LeTourneau was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for seeing Vili again.

So was this a case of rape or true love?

"Well, it can be both," said Dr. Berlin. "And it doesn't mean that our only option when this situation develops is to get angry and want to throw away the key."

"If indeed, this is a troubled person, getting them help, trying to rehabilitate them and helping them become a productive member of society is a very valid part of our system. That's not somebody beating the rap," he added.

LeTourneau and her husband Steven are divorcing. He has moved to Anchorage, Ala., with their four children. LeTourneau has given birth to her second child by Vili. His mother has temporary custody of both their children.

Produced by David Kohn