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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Letourneau Hits Big Time: Oprah

Arthur Santana, Carol M. Ostrom And Nancy Bartley Seattle Time

Mary Kay Letourneau telephoned Oprah Winfrey from prison Tuesday night, telling the talk-show host she broke her promise never to see her 14-year-old rape victim again because “this young man is the love of my life.”

Letourneau’s taped, long-distance comments were scheduled for broadcast on Winfrey’s nationally televised show Wednesday, along with interviews with her estranged husband, her defense attorney and the lawyer who represents the boy, said Jerilyn Schultz, the show’s publicist.

Letourneau, who was incarcerated Friday at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Wash., telephoned and “talked with Oprah personally” last night in Amarillo, Texas, while the show was being taped, Schultz said.

During their conversation, Winfrey asked the once-respected grade-school teacher - whose fall from grace has become an international story - if she and the boy had considered marriage.

Letourneau’s response was indirect, according to Schultz: “I think the families would like that,” Letourneau told Winfrey.

Schultz said Winfrey also asked Letourneau how she ended up with the boy two weeks ago in a parked car with steamy windows.

“He called, and I came,” Letourneau replied, saying she broke the key condition of her parole - that she avoid all contact with the boy, whose baby she bore in May - because “I think, with all certainty, this young man is the love of my life, or I wouldn’t have done this to my children.”

Calls for Letourneau have also come in recent days from other broadcast media shows such as “American Journal” and “Larry King Live,” said prison spokeswoman Patricia Wachtel, adding that the volume of requests for interviews has slowed Letourneau’s prison-admission process.

Letourneau is being selective about which media calls she returns, Wachtel added. “After I told her who wanted to talk to her, she said to give her the names and numbers of the national media because she said she only wanted to pursue those.”

Letourneau was ordered to prison Friday after a judge revoked her probation for child rape involving the boy.

The prison intake process, which includes a medical and mental evaluation, will reveal whether Letourneau became pregnant during the month she was out of jail. Wachtel said, though, that the result of the test is confidential and won’t be disclosed publicly.

She said the intake assessment should be concluded by the end of the week.

It was unclear why Letourneau is zeroing in on just national media. But, according to conditions set by a judge in November, she will not be able to profit from any commercialization related to her offense. That includes book deals, movie proposals and paid media interviews, said Dan Donohoe, King County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman.

Once a highly praised elementary-school teacher, Letourneau pleaded guilty to two counts of child rape in August - three months after she gave birth. She met the youth when she taught him in the second grade at Burien’s Shorewood Elementary School and claims to be in love with him. He has professed to love her as well.

After her relationship with the boy became known, the 36-year-old Letourneau was sent to jail. She lost her job, her husband, the child she had with the then-13-year-old boy and her four other children, who now live with her estranged husband in Alaska.

On Nov. 14, King County Superior Court Judge Linda Lau told Letourneau she would suspend a 7-1/2-year prison term and put her on probation if she met certain conditions - chief of which was to complete a sex-offender program and not see the boy again. She sentenced Letourneau to six months in jail with credit for time served, making her eligible for release this past Jan. 2.

Letourneau was released Jan. 2 and promptly registered as a sex offender. Her freedom came to an end a month later when, at 2:40 in the morning, she was caught by a Seattle police officer with the boy in her car near the Seward Park, Wash., home where she’d been staying since her release. That prompted Lau on Friday to reinstate the prison term.

It was during Letourneau’s 32 days out of jail that she told friends she’d stopped taking medication for her bipolar disorder - a condition marked by erratic mood swings.

She told friends she believed the drug was causing her to feel queasy and to lose her hair, and, most upsetting, to feel mentally fuzzy.

Letourneau’s estranged husband, Steve Letourneau, said Tuesday that he did not know whether she was mentally ill during their marriage, and that she wasn’t taking medication then for bipolar disorder. Asked whether he recalled any clues that hinted of the disorder, he said, “I don’t think we’ll ever know.”

Julie Moore, a psychiatrist who evaluated Letourneau before sentencing, said it was essential that Letourneau be on medication for her disorder and that she be carefully monitored. Letourneau’s bipolar disorder was severe, accounting for 90 percent to 95 percent of her problem, Moore said.

“The medications are the first and most important thing - the foundation,” she said Tuesday. “You still have to build the house on that - do the therapy, the sexual-deviancy counseling.”

Gaunt after being released from jail, she fretted about her appearance, piled granola on her yogurt in an attempt to gain weight and consulted a dermatologist for advice about her wrinkles. Always small, she disguised her thin frame with layers of shirts and sweat shirts.

Her friends said they did not suspect she was seeing or planned to see the now 14-year-old boy.

During last Friday’s parole-revocation hearing, Lau learned in private chambers that Letourneau might have had sex at least once with the boy in early January, shortly after she got out of jail.

An investigation into those allegations changed hands Tuesday from the King County Sheriff Office to the Seattle Police, enabling Detective Dane Bean, who met the boy at the time of Letourneau’s latest arrest, to continue the investigation.

During Tuesday’s taping of the “Oprah” show, Robert Huff, the boy’s attorney, said the boy’s mother “crumbled” when she first learned her son and Letourneau had gotten together again. Now, though, he said, the mother “has said it is better to forgive than to make the family bitter.”

Steve Letourneau also was interviewed for the show via satellite from Alaska.

He told Winfrey he’s upset that the boy’s mother now basically supports the relationship. “I’ve heard that, and basically that makes me sick.”

The boy’s mother, who is caring for her son’s baby, was featured in an interview with “American Journal” that aired Monday, the latest in a string of stories the program has aired on the Letourneau case.

Huff wouldn’t say Tuesday whether the mother was paid for the interview, though the program has paid for stories in the past.

During the show, the mother blamed her son at least in part for Letourneau’s latest troubles, saying that while Letourneau had rules to follow, the boy did too, and she was ready to “strangle” him.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Arthur Santana, Carol M. Ostrom and Nancy Bartley Seattle Times