Suspect in soldier's death was baby's father

FAYETTEVILLE, NC Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine said during a news conference that Sgt. Edgar Patino, 27, admitted fathering Spc. Megan L. Touma's baby. Touma, 23, was seven months pregnant when found dead in a motel bathtub last month.

Patino, who was arrested at his home Tuesday, acknowledged being in Touma's hotel room June 13, the last day her hotel room key was used, police said. He made his first court appearance Wednesday and asked for a public defense attorney, but one was not immediately assigned.

Police also believe Patino was the author of letters sent to The Fayetteville Observer and police from a person who claimed to be a serial killer responsible for Touma's death. Patino purchased a typewriter the day before the letters were sent, police said. The newspaper gave its letter to police.

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.

"We feel there was significant evidence that Patino published those letters, mailed those letters to throw off the investigation," said police Sgt. Chris Corcione.

Touma's family said in a statement they were "heartened by the arrest of a suspect in the case" and appreciated the "thoughts and prayers, many from strangers," that have helped them cope with Touma's death. The statement was released by a spokeswoman from Fort Riley in Kansas, where her family now lives.

Bergamine said Patino is based at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, a Special Forces training facility.

Touma 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 hanging on the door. The dental specialist from Cold Spring, Ky. was seven months pregnant and had also recently arrived from a base in Germany.

She completed a three-year tour at a clinic in Germany before requesting a transfer to Fort Bragg in February 2008, said Fort Bragg spokesman Tom McCollum.

Patino was assigned to the 18th Engineer Brigade, with duty in Bamberg, Germany, from at least November 2005 until December 2007, when he transferred to Fort Bragg. He was deployed to Iraq from November 2005 to October 2006, according to U.S. Army Europe spokesman Bruce Anderson.

He began studying psychological warfare at Fort Bragg in April. He was taken out of the courses around the time police named him a person of interest in Touma's death, said Army Special Operations Command spokesman Maj. Sonny Leggett.

Touma is the third servicewoman found dead recently 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, 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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