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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — An airman assigned to the 31st Maintenance Operations Squadron was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a bad-conduct discharge Tuesday after admitting to an affair with a 14-year-old.

Tech. Sgt. Ryan E. McElheny, 34, pleaded guilty to charges of carnal knowledge, aggravated sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual abuse of a child and indecent acts with a child in a general court-martial.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Kline, the military judge, sentenced him to 32 months in prison and a reduction in rank to E-3. His sentence was lessened due to a pre-trial agreement, part of which specified him pleading guilty and agreeing to a trial by judge.

McElheny, married with three children, tearfully apologized before he was sentenced.

"I am an adult and you are a child and our relationship was wrong," he said while looking at the girl, who is now 16. Stars and Stripes does not identify victims in sex cases.

The girl and her mother, who moved from Aviano to the States this summer, testified during the sentencing phase of the trial. McElheny’s two brothers, one a senior master sergeant in the Air Force, testified on his behalf during the same phase.

A 16-page, 24-paragraph stipulation of fact submitted by McElheny detailed his relationship with the girl, the daughter of another airman who sponsored him at Aviano.

The two families socialized a few times each week until the relationship was brought to light in November 2007, according to testimony. McElheny said he grew closer and closer to the girl — who frequently babysat for his younger children — and their relationship eventually became sexual.

McElheny testified that he knew the relationship was wrong and said he and the girl talked about that several times.

Asked by Kline why he still continued to see her, he responded, "Because I loved her."

During her testimony, the girl said she didn’t believe that she or McElheny had done anything wrong.

"I still love him," she said, while explaining that she still hoped for a future with him.

Capt. Andrew Cherkasky, the military prosecutor, used the word "disturbing" multiple times in his closing arguments. He said McElheny used the girl as "his 14-year-old mistress" and that McElheny’s oldest daughter is just a year younger than the girl. "That’s not right. It’s just plain disturbing."

He argued for a sentence of 36 months and a reduction in rank to E-1. He said the government could have asked for a harsher sentence but was taking McElheny’s service record into account. He faced a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

Capt. Darrin Skousen, the defense attorney, argued for a two-year sentence and against a reduction in rank. He said the loss of pay would be too hard on McElheny’s wife and three children. Skousen said his client would already carry the stigma of being a convicted sex offender for the rest of his life.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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