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AF Said Set to Court-Martial Female Pilot

May 20, 1997|NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Air Force was expected Monday to proceed with a court-martial of its first female B-52 pilot on adultery charges, apparently reluctant to give First Lt. Kelly J. Flinn the honorable discharge she sought in a last-minute effort to head off a trial likely to be embarrassing to both the service and the defendant.

Flinn's trial is scheduled to start today at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Her civilian attorney, Frank Spinner, said he will begin matters by asking the judge for a postponement until June 2.

The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed senior Pentagon official, reported late Monday that Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall "has no intention" of giving Flinn an honorable discharge.

An Air Force spokesman, responding to the report, insisted that Widnall had not yet made up her mind on the issue. The spokesman added, however: "It would be extremely rare for an honorable discharge to be given in a circumstance like this."

Other officials, in interviews with The Times, implied that Flinn and her advisors may have overplayed their hand by insisting on an honorable discharge. These officials said the Air Force might have approved a general separation, the military's second-best discharge and far better than the dishonorable discharge often given to personnel convicted in court-martial procedures.

Flinn is accused of adultery with a married civilian, Marc Zigo. It is this charge that has made the case an international sensation.

But from the Pentagon's standpoint, she also faces two far more serious charges--disobeying a direct order to stay away from Zigo and lying to her superior officers about the nature of her relationship with the man. She is also accused of having sexual relations with an enlisted airman, an offense known to the military as "fraternization."

Spinner on Monday formally filed a request to the Air Force to allow Flinn to resign and receive an honorable discharge in lieu of trial. He buttressed his case with files identifying cases in which Air Force personnel, both commissioned and enlisted, were either not charged or let off with a reprimand in adultery cases.

"The whole point of Lt. Flinn in offering the resignation is to avoid the embarrassment of a trial--embarrassment to the Air Force and Lt. Flinn," Spinner told a press conference at the Minot base shortly after he filed his motion.

Spinner said he initially had not advised Flinn to offer a resignation in lieu of trial--a procedure known by the military acronym RILO--because he understood that Widnall never granted such requests. He said that changed last week after the New York Times reported that Widnall had told associates she would "consider" giving Flinn an honorable discharge under the RILO procedure.

Pentagon officials confirmed that Widnall and her top aides were anxious to settle the case without an emotionally charged trial. But these officials did not confirm the New York Times report that Widnall would at least consider an honorable discharge.

In an all-or-nothing roll of the dice, Flinn told television interviewers late last week that she would accept nothing less than an honorable discharge and, failing that, would see the Air Force in court.

The Flinn case has gained notoriety in the wake of a sex scandal at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in which several drill instructors have been accused of sexually harassing trainees. In the most serious case, Army Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson was sentenced to 25 years in prison earlier this month for raping six female trainees.

In Flinn's case, the sex was consensual and did not involve abuse of command authority.

Before the charges were brought against her, the 26-year-old Flinn had been touted by the Air Force as a symbol of its commitment to gender equality. After graduating near the top of her class at the Air Force Academy, Flinn scored well enough on flight training to be given a choice of assignments. She picked the lumbering 8-engine B-52 and became the first woman ever to qualify to fly the strategic bomber.

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