April 11, 2002 -- The mother of the teenager suing a school district and police department for allegedly failing to protect him from a teacher convicted of raping him said today she could not hate the woman who bore her two grandchildren.
Soona Vili testified today that she did not suspect that her son Vili Fualaau, then 12, had a sexual relationship with his sixth-grade teacher, Mary Kay Letourneau, until a detective notified her.
Taking the stand in King County Superior Court in Kent, Wash., Soona Vili said she was shocked because she had let her son stay over at Letourneau's home and go on Letourneau family trips. She said she confronted the teacher, saying, "How could you? I trusted you."
However, though she blames Letourneau for ruining her son's life, Soona Vili tearfully said she could not hate the former teacher.
"I can't say I hate Mary," Vili said. "Just a couple of weeks ago my granddaughter turned around to me and asked, 'Do you love my Mary mommy, Grandma?' And I'm supposed to tell her 'Yeah, I hate your mother?' I can't. I can't. … And looking at my granddaughters, I can't consciously say I hate this woman."
Soona Vili is raising the two daughters Letourneau bore her son. Letourneau, who was convicted of child rape in the case, is serving a 7 ½-year prison term.
Vili Fualaau, now 18, and his mother are suing the Highline, Wash., School District and the Des Moines, Wash., Police Department for $1 million. They contend officials should have noticed the warning signs around Letourneau, who they say seduced the boy when he was just 12. She was 34 at the time, married and the mother of four children. Letorneau and the teen ended up having relationship that spanned several years.
"I never condone[d] the relationship … what happened was morally wrong," Soona Vili said. "She was married and this was a teenage boy, but I will do what I need to do to get through this."
‘Mary Still Abuses My Son’
Soona Vili said she regretted allowing her son to sell his story to the media and cooperate in the production of a made-for-TV movie.
"I made bad choices with the situation that was given to me," she said. "I made horrible, horrible mistakes, and there are a lot of things I'm not proud of. … I've lost my son. I lost my sweet little boy who could draw. I knew he would grow up, and he wouldn't be my little boy, but I didn't know I'd lose him at 12."
After she pleaded guilty to child rape, Letorneau was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to stay away from the youngster. But after her parole, Letourneau was found with the boy, parked in her van at the Des Moines Marina. Letorneau — now pregnant with her second child by the teen — was packed off to prison for violating her parole.
On Wednesday, Soona Vili said that if police had given her more information about this encounter at the marina, she would have intervened and stopped the relationship.
The turmoil surrounding her son's relationship with Letourneau, Soona Vili said, has turned him into an alcoholic. She said he has needed psychiatric care from more than half a dozen counselors and that she has had him hospitalized because she feared he would attempt suicide.
Soona Vili suggested that Letourneau still tries to contact her son from prison.
"It's really disrupted my family and even to this day she still disrupts our family," Soon Vili said. "Even to this day, Mary still abuses my son."
Vili's testimony is expected to continue into next week. Letourneau is also expected to testify via satellite from prison.
Lies and Confusion
The plaintiffs may have suffered a setback Wednesday, when Vili Fualaau admitted that he lied in a pretrial deposition. He admitted having a conversation with his mother about the fact that his statements to the media and in the deposition weren't helping the lawsuit and that something needed to be done about them.
"[The members of the jury] are probably confused because they don't know — I lied in my depositions, they don't know whether I'm lying or telling the truth right now," the teen said.
In his pretrial depositions, Vili Fualaau said he and Letourneau never had sex on school property, but earlier this week he testified that he did not know he was under oath when he made the statements.
In testimony last week, he maintained that there was sexual contact at the school, while he was still in Letourneau's sixth-grade class.
School district defense attorney Mike Patterson said the flip-flop in the youth's story came after his mother convinced him he'd better change his story or they would not win their case.
"One motivating factor that has been consistent in this case has been the money," Patterson said.
The family's lawyer, Lori Guzzo, said that of course the teenager wanted money, but only as compensation for the damage done to his life.
In his deposition, the teen said that he only claimed to have had sex with Letourneau on school grounds "to show off, to be macho."
"I said those things because Mary didn't want me to say that we had sex on school grounds," he testified on Wednesday.
The family's lawyer said conflicting testimony from the teenager could only be expected.
"Particularly in sexual abuse cases, the effects that the abuser has on the victim is that a person would lie to cover up for the abuser," Guzzo said. "It happens all the time."
ABCNEWS' Mike Gudgell in Kent, Wash., and ABC affiliate KOMO-TV in Spokane, Wash., contributed to this report.