by Chris Hale
July 4, 2002
[Publisher's Note: On May 12, 1998, we published an article called The Great Mary K. Letourneau Debate written by Hugh Faulkner and Chris Hale. This new article from Mr. Hale expresses a reflection on the original debate.]
I debated Hugh Faulkner five years ago in this magazine regarding the case of Mary K. Letourneau. I strongly professed what I believed at the time to be her innocence from the charges of child rape. However, in the five years since that debate, I have come to change my mind regarding Mary Letourneau’s case.
I can no longer escape the truth that she did break the law by having sexual relations with Villi Fulaau. In an interview from Dateline NBC in 1997, she mentioned that she felt a law against a natural thing such as sex was unnatural. That shows she knew that there was a law against what she planned to do with Villi. Furthermore, in a program on Mary for Biography on the A&E channel, Mary did state that she did break the law, but she wasn’t repentant about it.
I repeatedly stated in the former debate that Villi was mature for his age, both physically and mentally. I based this on some newspaper articles in the Seattle Times in 1997 that quoted his mother as saying he was an old soul in a young body. I took that to mean he was mentally older than his years. I even thought he looked older. But I’ve determined that I just engaged in wishful thinking that if he looked older, he could handle a sexual relationship with an adult. I was wrong. I didn’t consider that in the story on Mary for Dateline NBC in 1997, Villi’s mother stated that her son wasn’t ready to be a father. I also read about four years ago that Villi had been arrested on two robbery charges. Before that, it was also said in the newspapers that Villi skipped school, and was involved in smoking marijuana.
His mother worked most of the time trying to raise Mary and Villi’s two children, and Villi helped out, but I don’t believe he could raise these kids on his own even if Mary were around. Villi’s schoolwork and spending time with his friends would suffer due to having to care for his children, and I wonder how long Villi would let that happen. Villi was also said to have engaged in affairs with other girls. Apparently, with Mary in jail, it seems Villi isn’t committed to his one relationship to Mary.
In February, 1998, when Mary was arrested a second time, I wrote in the debate that she wasn’t planning to leave the country with Villi. I believed that the money in her car was for a dermatologist, and for buying her father and her son some clothing. I heard there was a few thousand dollars in the car. But I know that no one needs all that money for the things she described. I didn’t want to admit that this was strange. Also, her passport was found in her car. I didn’t want to admit that that was strange either. I don’t think anyone keeps a passport in their car if they aren’t going anywhere. Again, this was just part of my wrong thinking at the time.
In the book, “If Loving You Is Wrong” by Gregg Olsen, I read that Mary was said to have engaged in a sexual encounter with Villi in the school bathroom, while a staff meeting among the teachers was occurring. Mary was late for the meeting and some teachers became suspicious. That showed me that Mary was more committed to her affair with Villi than her teaching. It showed me that she was unprofessional, and irresponsible.
In an edition of the Globe magazine, Villi mentioned that he and Mary socialized together before their affair, going to movies and the shopping mall, and spending time at her house. I didn’t see it at the time of the debate, but teachers aren’t supposed to socialize with students. By doing so, they lose their objectivity, and forget that their job is to educate in the classroom. Mary stopped being Villi’s teacher during this time, and decided to become something more.
Mary had written Villi a note at one point saying he should hang around those his own age instead of just her. Mary also talked of her hesitation when Villi brought her a ring. Mary could have made a different decision. She could have stopped Villi’s advances by going to his mother or to the principal and telling them what Villi was doing.
These are just a few examples of things that made me doubt my beliefs in her innocence later on after the debate. During the investigation and impeachment of President Clinton, I believed that Clinton should have been removed from office for what he had done. I saw many Democrats defend him even though it seemed his guilt was obvious to me. Many denied that he had lied or obstructed anything. Such defenses reminded me of my defense of Mary.
I believe that there comes a time when someone can no longer in good conscience defend another’s actions. I still have trouble thinking that a rape occurred in the sense of forcing a person to have sex, but Mary is guilty of having sexual relations with a minor on multiple occasions. The law against that has been in existence for a long time and hasn’t changed. She lied to everyone when she said she was sorry for her actions when the judge gave her a suspended sentence. She defied the judge’s orders to stay away from Villi. At first, I thought her defiance justified since I thought she shouldn’t have been charged with rape and there might be an exception to the rule. But there can’t be an exception, or else every convict would ask for the same exception as Mary, and some might be violently dangerous, and their release could put another in harm’s way. Just like with President Clinton, there can’t be an exception to the rule against lying under oath. If there is an exception, then the law would cease to exist, and there would be no point to having witnesses take an oath to tell the truth.
Villi wasn’t the vastly mature person I had previously believed him to be. If his own mother didn’t believe him ready to have children, then I don’t think anyone else can either. His mother knows him best. No one at 13 or 15 years is ready for parenthood. None of the people I was acquainted with when I was 13 or 15 was seriously considering having children immediately.
Mary was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. It most likely had an impact on her decision making. But, she wasn’t declared legally insane. She could still control her decisions. After hearing about how hard life had become for Villi and his family because of the care for his two children, I determined that Mary did a selfish thing.
She was concerned for having a close relationship to someone because her marriage was collapsing.
She made a twisted decision maybe partly out of illness, but she didn’t think enough on what children and their care would do to Villi and his family, in my opinion. She threw away a career where she was respected, and she has alienated her children according to recent programs such as Biography on A&E. Looking back, it doesn’t seem worth it. Defending someone who is guilty and is shunned by the world at large made me feel sorry I ever wrote that debate. I have felt the need to get this off my chest for some time. I don’t want to offend anyone, I just wanted to express a different point of view that has developed over time. I hope everyone will accept this retraction of my former views.