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RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Twice in her young life, Jessica Zeltinger spent a night alone with her father.

And each time, she ended up in a hospital emergency room.

Now, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Zeltinger is going to prison for one year, convicted of shaking his 3-month-old daughter and causing permanent brain damage.

The electrician with the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at RAF Mildenhall was convicted Friday and sentenced Saturday in a court-martial at RAF Lakenheath. A panel of three officers and two enlisted members found him guilty of battery of a child under the age of 16 and aggravated assault with intent to cause bodily harm.

Zeltinger, 25, was also reduced to the rank of airman basic and given a dishonorable discharge. He faced a maximum of seven years in prison.

Jessica Zeltinger was born March 15, 2004, eight weeks premature, to Zeltinger and his wife, Michelle, also a staff sergeant.

On June 11, he returned from temporary duty at RAF Fairford and spent the night with Jessica while his wife worked. In the morning, the girl had a facial bruise and red eyes. The parents took her to the emergency room at RAF Lakenheath. Zeltinger told doctors he dropped a seat belt buckle on her while removing her from the car seat.

Early in the morning on June 21, after the father’s second night alone with the girl, paramedic Stephen Murrow of the local ambulance service saved the girl’s life as she lay on the family sofa. Zeltinger had called the ambulance when Jessica’s breathing and heart stopped.

The prosecution charged child abuse. Medical experts agreed after viewing images of the 12-pound girl’s fractured ribs and damaged brain.

Dr. (Capt.) Johnathan Cutting, commander of U.S. Navy clinics in the U.K., said, “I have a very strong opinion that this child was injured by child abuse.” Another Navy doctor, Dr. (Capt.) Barbara Craig, director of the Armed Forces Center for Child Protection in Bethesda, Md., agreed, adding: “There’s no doubt in my mind that baby Jessica has brain damage.”

Dr. (Maj.) Dawn Peredo, a pediatrician at the RAF Lakenheath hospital, who saw the girl both before and after the two incidents, said Jessica had lost developmental skills.

“I believe this was an inflicted injury,” she said, describing it as “a violent shaking.”

Under questioning by Maj. Don Christensen, the lead prosecutor, Zeltinger said he had no idea how his daughter incurred the injuries.

The defense team of Capt. Melanie Keiper and Capt. Tiwana Wright tried to paint an alternative cause for the injuries, pointing out that others also had the opportunity to harm the girl.

Capt. Matt Blue, a prosecutor, urged the panel to give Zeltinger the maximum sentence of seven years. The panel didn’t, giving him one year instead.


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