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Air Force gives pilot a general discharge

Court-martial plans dropped

Flinn Latest developments: May 22, 1997
Web posted at: 8:36 p.m. EDT (0036 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Air Force will grant a general discharge to 1st Lt. Kelly Flinn, allowing her to leave the service without facing a court-martial on charges stemming from her adultery.

Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall said she based her decision on Flinn's case on "the absolute requirement to maintain good order," and for a "firm, just and equitable disciplinary system."

Honorable discharge vs. General discharge

"Although it is the adultery charge that has received the greatest public focus, it is the allegations of lack of integrity and disobedience to order that have been of principal concern to the Air Force," Widnall said.

VXtreme logo VXtreme streaming video: Flinn's lawyer
VXtreme logo VXtreme streaming video: Flinn's mother
VXtreme logo VXtreme streaming video: Flinn's brother

"It is primary those allegations that made an honorable discharge unacceptable."

Flinn, 26 and single, was charged with adultery, disobedience, fraternization and lying to investigators.

A graduate of the Air Force Academy, she acknowledged having an affair with a married civilian and having sex with an enlisted man, both in violation of military rules. She was accused of lying about the affair to investigators and disobeying an order to end it.


Deflecting criticism of the Air Force for its handling of the matter, Widnall insisted that Flinn, the Air Force's first female B-52 pilot, was not treated differently because she was a woman.

Top Air Force officials have expressed frustration that public attention focused on the charge of adultery and not on what they view as the more serious offenses of lying and disobeying an order.

Flinn's attorney blames civilian

Flinn attorney Frank Spinner praised his client's courage, and said she consulted with her family as she made her decision to accept the out-of-court settlement.

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"I think she realized that if the Air Force wasn't big enough to forgive her, and recognize that the humiliation she suffered was enough punishment, then she would modify her position to one that would at least save some face for the Air Force," Spinner told reporters at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

Marc Zigo

He laid the blame for the case at the feet of Marc Zigo, the civilian with whom Flinn had an affair.

"No Marc Zigo, no United States versus Lt. Kelly Flinn," Spinner said. "Marc Zigo has been a predator."

The resignation would take effect in about 10 days, Spinner said, but details were still being worked out.

A general discharge may mean that Flinn cannot fly in the Air National Guard, which she had wanted to do to build flying time toward a career as a commercial pilot.

Widnall said Flinn would not be allowed to fly in the Air Force Reserves and would be required to pay back the cost of her Air Force Academy education.

Pilot's family defends her

Flinn's mother said the Air Force mishandled her daughter's case by making the details public prematurely.

"She was publicly humiliated and her reputation immediately destroyed," Mary Flinn said at the news conference. "We then urged her to amend her resignation before the Air Force she loved could destroy her completely."

Mary Flinn called on Congress to review the way military justice is administered.

"It is not the end that Kelly would have wanted, or could have been if this had been handled properly by the Air Force. Nor is it the end of Kelly's ambitions and achievements.

Flinn family

"It is time for a new beginning, both for Kelly and for the way the Air Force implements the military justice system."

Flinn was not at the news conference. Flinn's brother, Don Flinn Jr., said his sister was physically and emotionally exhausted, but confident about her decision.

The court-martial trial, had been scheduled to begin Tuesday, but was delayed after Flinn requested an honorable discharge.

The case drew public attention because of Flinn's pioneering role in the military and the implications for the military's controversial code of conduct.

Widnall's decision represents a relatively mild punishment compared to the lengthy prison sentence Flinn have faced if convicted on all charges and given a maximum sentence.

Correspondents Jamie McIntyre and Jeff Flock contributed to this report.


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