By Darrell Todd Maurina
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — The editor of the Cannon Air Force Base newspaper will spend nine months in military prison, be demoted to the lowest enlisted rank, and receive a bad conduct discharge following his court-martial conviction Wednesday for carnal knowledge.
Master Sgt. Stefan Alford of Cannon Public Affairs said the base only rarely has court-martials, and said he knows of only one other court-martial held so far this year.
Airman 1st Class Justin Fluellen, 21, editor of the Mach Meter, pleaded not guilty to the charge, which under the Uniform Code of Military Justice involves sexual penetration of a person less than 16.
Fluellen could have been punished with up to 20 years’ imprisonment.
The girl, now 16, told the court that Fluellen began a sexual relationship with her when she was 14 and continued the relationship for two years.
The military justice code allows defendants to claim “the accused reasonably believed that the person had at the time of the alleged offense attained the age of 16 years” but places the burden of proof on defendants who make that claim.
Fluellen’s military attorney, Capt. Joel Deaton, argued Fluellen was involved with a girl who intentionally sought out older men as sexual partners.
“When someone looks older than they are, when they conceal their age and actively pursue a relationship with someone older than themselves, it is logical to believe that the person is older than they are, and that is exactly what happened,” Deaton said.
The prosecuting attorneys, Capt. Deanna Daly and Maj. Joe Kiefer, countered with witnesses including the girl, who claimed she told Fluellen her age when she was 15, her uncle who said he tried to keep Fluellen from contacting his niece on account of her age, and an older friend of the girl who said she had made Fluellen aware of her age.
The older friend, Tiffany Grimes, said she wanted Fluellen to know the age of his girlfriend because she was aware of what could happen once she saw Fluellen wearing a uniform.
“I have some friends who are in the military in California and I know the consequences of being with someone who is underage,” Grimes told the court.
Military judge Maj. Barbara E. Shestko granted a request by Deaton to have one of Fluellen’s friends testify that he and others thought the girl was old enough to be in the military, not under 16.
“She is misrepresenting her age to other airmen in the community Airman Fluellen is a part of,” Deaton said. “She was holding herself out to be older than she actually was.”
Those arguments didn’t persuade the judge, who after deliberation found Fluellen guilty.
According to 2nd Lt. Jennifer Geeslin of Cannon Public Affairs, Fluellen was required to report immediately for imprisonment and has been replaced as editor by Airman Carole Brabham.
“We have a fully trained staff and we will continue to produce the best product possible,” Geeslin said.
Geeslin said neither Fluellen nor his attorney would be available for comment on the sentence.