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RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Senior Master Sgt. Randy Dettmer sat through the first day of his court-martial Monday, claiming his innocence on charges of viewing child pornography on his home computer.

By the trial’s second day, Dettmer, of the 100th Maintenance Operations Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, had a change of heart.

“I felt that I had to step up and take responsibility for what I did,” he told the court in an unsworn statement Tuesday afternoon, hours after changing his plea to guilty.

The presence of five chief master sergeants on the panel judging him, he said, made him realize how he had dishonored the Air Force he served for more than 25 years.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Truly sorry.”

The panel, which also included a captain and lieutenant, sentenced Dettmer on Wednesday afternoon to hard labor for two months without confinement, two months’ confinement and busted him to the rank of senior airman. He was not discharged and will not forfeit benefits. Dettmer’s current enlistment ends Oct. 18.

He could have been sent to jail for five years and busted in rank to airman basic, forfeiting all pay and benefits and receiving a dishonorable discharge.

In his closing argument, Dettmer’s civilian attorney, Neal Puckett, of Alexandria, Va., said his client’s plea change was because of his respect for the Air Force.

“Those stripes on his sleeves were burning through his arms,” he said.

The prosecution, Puckett said, had entered into evidence only about 15 photos, far fewer than the thousands that some people charged with the crime have viewed.

Loss of benefits, he said, would be tantamount to a $1.5 million fine for the handful of photos.

Dettmer is the third airman at RAF Mildenhall caught by an operation conducted by several federal agencies last year to be convicted of the crime.

Capt. Jason Fye, who had 30,000 images of underage children in sexually explicit poses saved on his home computer, was sentenced to six months in jail in July. A technical sergeant, Dean Harmer, was sentenced to 11 months in March. Both entered guilty pleas.

The trial was held at RAF Lakenheath while the courtroom at RAF Mildenhall undergoes renovation.

Dettmer, who wiped away tears during his unsworn statement, said loss of benefits would hurt his Russian-born wife and 4-year-old son, who has a rare form of epilepsy and requires expensive medication.

“I feel ashamed of what I did,” he said.

Capt. Matthew Blue — who, along with Maj. Robert Luttrell, chief circuit trial counsel, prosecuted Dettmer — asked the panel to confine him for two years, bust him to the rank of airman first class, take away all pay and benefits and give him a dishonorable discharge.

Dettmer’s good service for more than 25 years, Blue said, did not merit a lighter sentence for his crime.

“This is a real crime with real victims,” Blue said. Dettmer’s senior position made it worse, the attorney said, because he knew better and did it anyway.

“He made a cold, calculated decision to look at child pornography as a mature person,” he said.


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