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Air Force Officer Sent To Prison For Affair

January 20, 1988

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ An Air Force security officer has been sentenced to a year in military prison for an adulterous romance with an enlisted woman that came to light after other servicemen saw them kissing in a parking lot.

The Air Force said it was efforts by Capt. James Etheridge Jr. to cover up the affair with his subordinate that earned him the stiff sentence and ended his military career of nearly 21 years.

Etheridge, who is married and has a family, was convicted of adultery, fraternization with an enlisted woman, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He was sentenced Jan. 6 to a year in prison and fined $12,000.

″What we were more interested in prosecuting in this case was the obstruction of justice charge,″ said Mather Air Force Base public affairs official Cathy Wimberly. ″That was more important to us than the fraternization charge.″

Etheridge’s attorney, Capt. Joel Marsh, was enroute to Little Rock, Ark. where he has since been transferred, and couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment.

According to the Air Force, when Etheridge learned three military police had reported the kiss, he and the woman conspired to tell investigators that he had been counseling her about personal problems and that she kissed him as a way of saying thank you.

However, their colleagues in the 323rd Security Police Squadron who saw them at the coffee shop June 29 told investigators the kiss lasted for at least three minutes, the Air Force said.

In September, the couple was spotted together at Nimbus Dam near Sacramento in the middle of the night, officials said.

Afterward, Etheridge allegedly instructed the woman to tell investigators that their meeting had been a coincidence, the Air Force said. Instead, she reported that the rendezvous was planned, and later told investigators she and Etheridge had sexual relations in June.

Wimberly said it hasn’t been decided what, if any, disciplinary action will be taken against the woman, whose identity was not released. Fraternization isn’t a crime for enlisted personnel.

Etheridge is at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth, Kan., while his conviction before a military court undergoes an automatic appeal, said Staff Sgt. Craig Ackerman of the Mather public affairs office.

″It’s not that common,″ Ackerman said of the sentence. ″We like to think that people in the Air Force are very professional in their relationships. Our officers have to be able to make unbiased decisions. And this sort of thing just erodes the confidence of subordinates. We just have to have some standards.″

Unless his conviction is overturned, Etheridge will be retired or discharged from the service upon his release from prison, Wimberly said. She said the officer probably would still qualify for his pension.

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