An Air Force captain who disobeyed his commanders' orders to halt his love affair with an enlisted woman was dismissed from the service Sunday and ordered to serve a 15-day prison term.
A six-member military jury decided the sentence after prosecutors said Capt. Joseph Belli should serve a year in prison.
Belli, 35, pleaded guilty to fraternization, conspiracy and disobeying direct orders. The charges carry a maximum 22-year prison term. The sentence had been expected to be lower than the maximum because of his guilty plea.
In final arguments, court-martial Maj. Terry O'Brien said Belli allowed his personal life to cloud his sense of duty and tarnish the Air Force. "The willful, blatant and repeated refusal to obey orders: That's the crux of this case," she said.
Before court resumed Sunday, Belli said, "Every time they gave me the order, I walked out of the room with good intentions. But you just can't stop loving somebody."
In his lawyer's closing argument, John Hodson, characterized the case as a "dime novel."
"(Belli) has told the absolute truth from day one to today. He's hanged himself in this case," Hodson said.
The pilot, who was married and the father of five children when he began the affair with Airman Susan Redo, then 19, said he was so deeply in love with Redo that his judgment was clouded. He later married Redo.
Belli said he already has been punished because he was demoted from pilot to co-pilot, taken off flight status and has been restricted to Travis Air Force Base.
Fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel became a national issue in 1997 when Lt. Kelly Flinn, the first female B-52 bomber pilot, was charged with adultery for having an affair with the husband of a female airman in North Dakota. She eventually was allowed to resign and was not prosecuted.
Belli had asked permission to resign from the military, but was turned down in December by acting Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters, who said the request was inappropriate.
Redo has been demoted to the Air Force's lowest rank and continues trying to get discharged from the military. The couple married in March, two days after Belli's divorce was finalized.
By JOHN HOWARD