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Lying, Not Adultery, Is Female Pilot's Top Crime, AF Says

Military: Official answers gathering critics of possible court-martial by stressing that sex charges against pioneering B-52 flier are not her most serious offenses.


MINOT, N.D. — With its court-martial of 1st Lt. Kelly J. Flinn on hold, the Air Force on Wednesday raised the stakes in the high-profile case. Its chief of staff, Gen. Ronald Fogleman, made a point of saying that the first female B-52 pilot is accused of far more serious offenses than sex with a married civilian.

"In the end, this is not an issue of adultery," Fogleman told the Senate Appropriations Committee in Washington. "This is an issue about an officer entrusted to fly nuclear weapons who lied. That's what this is about."

Seated at Fogleman's side was Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall, who must rule on Flinn's request to be allowed to resign her commission with an honorable discharge. If Widnall denies that request, Flinn will stand trial on charges of adultery, fraternization, lying about her affair and disobeying a direct order to break it off.

Widnall did not comment on the case. The trial cannot begin until Widnall issues her decision on the resignation request.

But events in Minot indicate that the trial, if it ever begins, will be a bitter one.

Flinn's former lover, Marc Zigo, and Zigo's former wife both turned up as potential prosecution witnesses, ready to attack the carefully crafted reputation of the bomber pilot who was once portrayed by the Air Force as a symbol of its commitment to gender equality.

Both Zigo, a civilian with whom Flinn admits to having a six-month affair last year, and his ex-wife, Gayla A. Zigo, were interviewed by lawyers for the prosecution and defense, outlining the testimony that they are prepared to give.

Neither Zigo would talk to reporters Wednesday, but both have accused Flinn of lying. Gayla Zigo, an Air Force enlisted woman, wrote in a letter to Widnall that Flinn "was in bed with my husband having sex" less than a week after the Zigos arrived at Minot Air Force Base.

Gayla Zigo said that she asked her first sergeant to speak to Flinn about the matter and "Lt. Flinn told my first sergeant she would stop seeing my husband because she knew it was wrong. I thought the matter was resolved. Later I found out I was wrong; she had continued her relationship with Marc."

On Capitol Hill, Flinn has a growing legion of supporters who are pressuring Widnall to either give Flinn the honorable discharge she is seeking or a mild punishment without court-martial.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) berated Fogleman and Widnall during the Appropriations Committee hearing. He accused the military of trying to enforce an outdated moralistic legal code.

"I think the Air Force is looking ridiculous on this," Harkin said.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), joined by several other female members of Congress, called a press conference to complain about the Air Force's treatment of Flinn.

"Kelly Flinn is not innocent--but neither is the Air Force," Lowey said. "This case has been bungled from the very beginning.

"The Air Force should not have thrown the book at her, treating her like a criminal," she said.

All this followed a statement by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) on Tuesday that the Air Force should give Flinn an honorable discharge.

The public show of political support for Flinn clearly is intended to pressure Widnall to avoid the trial, which could embarrass the service as much as the defendant. But Fogleman's comments show that the uniformed leadership of the Air Force is determined to go ahead with what it portrays as a normal disciplinary matter.

The appearance of the Zigos as potential witnesses was a surprise. Marc Zigo dropped from view last winter after his wife divorced him on charges of adultery. Although Gayla Zigo had been reported to be reluctant to testify, she decided to do so after reading that the pilot might receive an honorable discharge.

In her letter to Widnall, Gayla Zigo said: "How could I compete with her? She had power, both as an officer and [Air Force] Academy graduate. She also had special status as the first female B-52 pilot."

Flinn's civilian attorney, Frank Spinner, said that he could understand Gayla Zigo's feelings, although "she should direct her anger at Marc Zigo, not Lt. Flinn."

Spinner said that the letter contained factual inaccuracies, but he declined to say what they were, explaining that he would save that for the trial.

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