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The Fall From Spyglass Hill

Friends Say That to Understand the Story of Mary Kay Letourneau, the Ex-Schoolteacher Jailed for Having Sex With an Adolescent, You Need to Look Back at Her Childhood in Orange County

April 29, 1998|PAMELA WARRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"You know, we have been lovers before, my darling and I, and we had at least 10 children together," she told an interviewer for Mirabella magazine who told her he wanted to write a screenplay about Letourneau's "forbidden love."

"Someday, we will marry. We will all live happily together, and my two families will be one, and everything will be just perfect!" she told an interviewer for a local Seattle television station. "I couldn't be happier. I have a new life inside me. It's a sign, a sign that God wants us to be together, to be one."

Her "consistently upbeat view of life today," says Gehrke, is tempered only by her sorrow that "all this had to come out" during her father's life.

Psychiatrist Moore told the weekly public radio program "The Infinite Mind" that the Letourneau marriage was "on the rocks when Mary Kay went into her depression over her father's illness." According to Moore, Letourneau was convinced that her father, who has cancer, was dying.

John Schmitz, who until his daughter's legal troubles became public worked part time at a political memorabilia shop in Washington's Union Station, now spends most of his time in Virginia at a vineyard his other children bought him a few years ago. Through friends and family members, Schmitz declined The Times' repeated requests for interviews.

"This is a strong family, and they've been through crises before, and it has only made them stronger, but this is a real test," says friend Voit.

Although the family has committed itself to helping pay for the educations of the four Letourneau children, it had not contributed any money to her defense until a recent commitment to assist with any appeal.

The Questions About Her Mental State

'I have found true love at last," Mary Kay told a reporter for a tabloid TV show. But why, she asked, suddenly angry, "Why are all these people using me to start digging up all those horrible things about my father's past? It's a conspiracy! My father has a right to die with dignity."

"When people hear that Mary Kay is pregnant again," says Gehrke, "that she is pregnant by the same boy she was sent to prison for raping, they say to me, 'How could anybody in their right mind do such a thing?' And I say, 'That is the point exactly. Clearly, Mary Kay Letourneau is not in her right mind at all.' "

And the proof of that, says Letourneau psychiatrist Julia Moore, is that when Mary Kay took the medications prescribed to control manic-depressive illness (also known as bipolar disorder), "she returned to her senses."

"This is a neurobiological illness. And her symptoms are classic: She barely sleeps, her thoughts go a hundred miles a minute, she needs different pieces of paper to arrange her thoughts when she's talking, she's distractible, and in her hypersexual state, she takes enormous risks. Like having sex with a sixth-grader.

"For a patient like this," says Moore, "morality is going to begin with a pill." Moore and other members of Letourneau's defense team believe that any number of traumas may have set off her mental illness.

Gehrke appealed for leniency during November's televised hearing of charges against Letourneau, arguing that his client had been emotionally and physically abused by her husband.

"In two of the three cases," said Gehrke, "she went to the hospital for treatment, and police were called." Although no criminal charges were filed, the allegations are repeated in documents filed in the Letourneaus' divorce case.

Steve Letourneau, an Alaska Airlines supervisor who is reportedly writing a book about his relationship with Mary Kay, has not commented publicly on the charges. A few months after he discovered love letters from his wife to her former student--but while she was still living at home with him and their children, ages 4 to 13--he met an Alaska Airlines flight attendant while vacationing in Puerto Vallarta and in August moved her into the home he now shares with his children in Anchorage.

Though barred by the court from seeing her children, Mary Kay has tried to stay in touch with them. Her daughter Audrey is being raised by her young lover's mother, who is expected to take in the new baby as well.

Two of her three older brothers, along with her two younger sisters, took Mary Kay's four Letourneau children into their homes for last summer.

John Patrick Schmitz, a much-admired White House counsel during the Bush administration, now has a successful law practice in Washington and Berlin. Joseph Schmitz, who attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, recently left the service to join another high-profile law firm in the nation's capital.

Jerry, who is two years older than Mary Kay, is an engineer who works in Arizona and Nevada. When he was 23 and working as a staff member of the San Francisco Scientology mission, his parents threatened to sue the Church of Scientology for alienating him from his family and the Catholic Church.

Her younger sisters Theresa and Elizabeth are both homemakers who live in the Washington, D.C., area.

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