Questions Remain In Slaying Of Pregnant Soldier

By: AP
By: AP

RALEIGH, N.C. - A suspect is in custody, but authorities aren't saying much about the death of a pregnant soldier whose body was found in a motel bathtub in Fayetteville more than a month ago.

On Tuesday, police charged Fort Bragg Sgt. Edgar Patino with first-degree murder in the death Army Spc. Megan L. Touma, but did not release a cause of death or motive. Police scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference Wednesday, the same day Patino is scheduled to appear in court.

Touma was last seen alive not long after she arrived on June 12 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, home to the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and its Special Operations Command. She was divorced and authorities have said nothing about the father of her child.

She was temporarily assigned to Fort Bragg's 19th Replacement Company and would have eventually been assigned to work at a base dental clinic.

Patino was arrested at his home, said Lt. Lars Paul, a police watch commander. He was being held in the Cumberland County jail without bond.

Patino was transferred to Fort Bragg in December 2007, said Bruce Anderson, spokesman with the U.S. Army Europe. Before that, Patino had been assigned as a combat engineer to the 18th Engineer Brigade in Bamberg, Germany, Anderson said.

Touma, 23, was found dead June 21 after a motel maintenance supervisor smelled a foul odor coming from a room, which had a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door for four days. A dental specialist from Cold Spring, Ky., Touma was seven months pregnant and had also recently arrived from a base in Germany.

Authorities have said a soldier studying psychological warfare at Fort Bragg was a person of interest in the case. It was unclear if police were referring to Patino.

Police also investigated a letter sent to The Fayetteville Observer from a person who claimed to be a serial killer responsible for Touma's death. The letter featured a circle-and-cross drawing that was the same as one used a generation ago by San Francisco's infamous Zodiac Killer. Authorities said a similar symbol had also been drawn in lipstick on the motel room mirror.

Police have said they believed the letter was written to mislead investigators and the media.

Touma is among three servicewomen killed in recent months near North Carolina military bases.

Earlier this month, Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, 24, was found dead in a wooded area near Camp Lejeune three days after a suspicious fire at her Fayetteville apartment. Her estranged husband, Marine Cpl. John Wimunc, who is stationed at Camp Lejeune, has been charged in her death.

In January, the burned body of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, who was eight months pregnant, was discovered in a shallow grave near Camp Lejeune in the back yard of her former co-worker and a man she accused of rape, Cpl. Cesar Laurean. Laurean fled to Mexico but was arrested April 10. He has been charged with murder and is awaiting extradition.


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