Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mary Kay Letourneau: The Romance That was a Crime


Mary Kay Lenourneau
Mary Kay Lenourneau
Mary Kay Letourneau was released from prison Wednesday, August 4, 2004 at age 42. 

The story of Mary Kay continues to fascinate and outrage. Her attorney David Gehrke said, "We're being contacted by news media almost daily." When a Washington state newspaper, The Peninsula Gateway, did a story on the August 26, 2003 Back to School Carnival at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, Mary Kay was prominently featured. Her photograph appeared on the newspaper's front page and she was heavily quoted.

According to the article, Mary Kay was delighted to learn about the prison's plan for a Back to School Carnival as were the other inmates. "Everybody looked forward to this," she said. "We all just about burst into tears when it was announced a few months ago." Her two youngest children, 6-year-old Audrey and 4-year-old Alexis – both conceived in what were legally Mary Kay's rapes of their father – spent what Gateway reporter Jim Thomsen called "a little touching time with their mother."

However, the Back to School Carnival was far from the first time Mary Kay's children had visited her in prison. The prison's mother-child program allows frequent visits between inmate mothers and their children and the four children Mary Kay has by Steve Letourneau as well as the two by Vili Fualaau saw their mother often over the years of her confinement. The Gateway quoted Mary Kay as saying of Audrey, "She's really grown up here; she doesn't understand that it is a prison."  But Mary Kay added that she was especially happy about this visit because it was "the first chance I've had to tell [Audrey] about what it's going to be like for her in school."

An index of how much strong feeling Mary Kay still provokes is demonstrated by the fact that the week after this article ran, the publisher of The Peninsula Gateway, George Le Masurier, felt compelled to publish an explanation for why the newspaper had chosen her picture to illustrate the piece. That explanation said, "We've received many phone calls and letters to the editor questioning our decision to print pictures of Mary Kay Letourneau. Some callers said they enjoyed the story, but wished we had chosen another inmate to feature in the front-page photograph." People objected to Mary Kay's picture on the grounds of the seriousness of her crime or believed the Gateway "sensationalized the story by playing on the infamous celebrity status of Letourneau."

Le Masurier defended the photograph on the grounds that it was newsworthy. "Letourneau has not allowed herself to be photographed since 1998, and never with her daughter," he wrote. "We call that a 'scoop' in the news business." He noted that "Everyone in that prison is there for a reason." He also acknowledged, "We did use her celebrity to draw attention to a story of national importance occurring right here in our community."

Mary Kay Letourneau registered as a convicted sex offender with the sheriff's office. She will have to register in whatever county she lives and will have to do so for the rest of her life unless that obligation is lifted in writing by a judge. She will also receive court-ordered treatment as a sex offender. Can she return to her chosen profession of teaching? Gehrke says, "In this state, and I assume most states, she's barred from teaching minors. However, she is an excellent teacher and has been a volunteer at the GED program at the prison. I've gotten many letters of support from parents and former students. She's got the talent and ability to teach so teaching adults would be one area in which she could work but I'm not saying she will work in that area."

When Mary Kay went to prison in 1998, she was certain that her adolescent lover, Vili Fualaau, would be waiting for her when she was released. In an A&E Television Biography broadcast in 2001, she said, "If Vili and I are together – and I really shouldn't say 'if" because I know we will be ... We'll be together because it's right for us to be together."

Vili Fualaau
Vili Fualaau
In February, 1999, Vili appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and said, "I plan to marry her. She's my world, she's my life and they all know that I have her ring on still and it's never going to change."

But apparently it did. Komo 1000 News reported that three years later, in a deposition for the losing lawsuit Vili and his mother filed against the Des Moines Police Department and the Highline School District, the 18-year-old Vili said, "I'm not in love anymore." The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter wrote that, in the trial itself, he testified, "I can't see us together in the future. Personally, I've lost feelings for her."

"There was no-contact order between them," Gehrke revealed. "A lot of people think they could see each other now because he's an adult but the no-contact order is because he's a victim." Vili would have to go to court to get it lifted; otherwise the order will last for life. "I know he wants to get it lifted so they can parent better," Gehrke comments. "They want to be able to take their daughters to school events and outings and things like that and the no-contact order will obviously make that hard."

On Friday, August 6, 2004, a judge in Seattle lifted that no-contact order.

Why does this case so intrigue the public? Gehrke believes, "It's because of the question, 'is she a rapist or is it a love story?' She's been held in limbo so no one's been able to tell but I think everybody's actions over the next six to twelve months will tell." Freedom will give Mary Kay a chance to show whether her unlawful relationship with a child was an aberration in the behavior of an otherwise good and healthy person or symptomatic of something deeply twisted in her character.

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