Te'o asks: 'Doesn't it sound like a girl?'

  • Article by: BRIAN HAMILTONCHICAGO TRIBUNE
  • Updated: January 24, 2013 - 10:43 PM

Voice mail from "Lennay Kekua" is played as Katie Couric interviews Manti Te'o, adding to the saga.

NEW YORK - During Manti Te'o's first televised interview after the dead girlfriend hoax that is engulfing him, he listened to a voice mail from the person purported to be Lennay Kekua -- a voice that was revealed Thursday to be that of the alleged hoaxer himself, a 22-year-old man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

"Doesn't it sound like a girl?" Te'o asked Katie Couric. "It sounds like a girl."

Consider it yet another of the mind-bending twists in the saga that has broadsided the former Notre Dame linebacker, whose sit-down with Couric was his first on-camera appearance since the story broke on Jan. 16.

Among the more notable moments of the interview was Te'o conceding he was not totally forthcoming but refusing to label it lying; Couric asking Te'o if he was gay and Te'o laughing as he said he wasn't; and Te'o saying that fear and embarrassment led him to perpetuate a narrative he had suspicions about in early December.

On Dec. 6, the person portraying Kekua called Te'o, announcing that she had not, in fact, died on Sept. 12. Te'o, confused, still referred to a dead girlfriend in media appearances 48 hours later.

"Part of me was saying, if you say that she is alive, what would everybody think?" Te'o said. "What are you going to tell everybody who follows you, who you've inspired? What are you going to say?

"At that time, Dec. 8, as a 21-year-old, I wasn't ready for that. The only one who knew was me. I did not know who to turn to, I did not know who to tell, I didn't know who to trust. I was scared. That's the truth. I was scared and I did not know what to do."

Earlier in the interview, Te'o was asked about transcripts of interviews in which he spoke about meeting Kekua -- even though such a meeting obviously never occurred.

"For people feeling they're misled, that I'm sorry for," Te'o said. "I wasn't as forthcoming about it, but I didn't lie. I never was asked, 'Did you see her in person?' Through embarrassment and fear of what people may think, that I was committed to this person I didn't meet, that scared me. To avoid any further conversation, I wasn't as forthcoming as I should have been."

Though the interview was taped before a New York Daily News report in which Tuiasosopo's lawyer confirmed that his client was the voice of Lennay Kekua, Te'o was a bit bewildered when Couric raised the notion that he was speaking to a man the entire time.

"Well, it didn't sound like a man," Te'o said. "It sounded like a woman. But if he somehow made that voice, that's incredible. That's incredible talent to do that. Especially every single day."

Couric showed an excerpt of a Jan. 16 Twitter direct message to Te'o, allegedly from Tuiasosopo, that admitted guilt. It read in part: "It's the 16th. I wanted to tell you everything today. I would and will never say anything bad about you or your family. I completely accept the consequences to the pain I caused."

Te'o's parents offered their unconditional support during the Couric interview, and Te'o said his deepest regret was the angst this caused them.

"The greatest joy in any child's life is to make your parents proud," he said. "The greatest pain is to know they're experiencing pain because of you."

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