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Suspect in N. Carolina soldier's death was baby's father

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Spec. Megan Touma and a married Sgt. Edgar Patino began their relationship when both were stationed in Germany.

Patino transferred in January to Fort Bragg, and a pregnant Touma, of Cold Spring, Ky., followed six months later. A day after she arrived, police said, the two met in a motel room near the North Carolina base.

Touma's decomposing body was found in the room's bathtub a week later.

Patino was in court on a first-degree murder charge Wednesday, a day after he was arrested in Touma's death at his home in nearby Hope Mills. Police said he admitted fathering 23-year-old Touma's unborn baby.

Patino acknowledged being in Touma's hotel room June 13, the last day her hotel room key was used, police said. He asked for a public defense attorney at his first court appearance, 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.

Police said Patino lived with his wife at the house where he was arrested. No one answered the door there Wednesday afternoon. Several neighbors said they didn't know Patino, and one neighbor, who asked not to be named, said she barely saw him.

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 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 October 2004 until January 2008, when he transferred to Fort Bragg, officials said. He was deployed to Iraq from November 2005 to October 2006, according to U.S. Army Europe spokesman Bruce Anderson.

He began studying psychological operations training at the school at Fort Bragg in April.