SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE — The victims of an Air Force sergeant convicted of secretly photographing his nude stepdaughters want to know why he received such a light punishment.
Master Sgt. Norman “Skip” Clevenstine, 42, pleaded guilty last month to two counts of secretly taking photographs of his teen-age stepdaughters while they were in the shower. Two related charges were dismissed as part of the plea.
The military prosecutor at the special court martial asked the six member jury to give Clevenstine a bad-conduct discharge and send him to prison, said Lt. Col. Jim Sutton, the chief lawyer for the 375th Airlift Wing.
Instead, the jury took away two stripes — reduced him in rank to staff sergeant — ordered the forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for three months and gave him a reprimand.
The sentence effectively ended Clevenstine’s 22-year career, but he will be allowed to retire next month, although his retirement pay will be about $300 a month less than it would have been.
“I really don't understand the jury's sentence,” said Toni Clevenstine, his estranged wife and mother of the two victims. “If you'd been in the courtroom — the emotion was so intense, the judge had tears in his eyes.”
The two stepdaughters, who were 18 and 13 when the photos were taken in 1995, testified to their shock and horror at finding the photos shortly before Christmas 1996.
Melissa, now 20, asked that her last name not be used to protect her younger sister.
“I didn't care if he lost his retirement or was dishonorably discharged,” Melissa said. “I was just sure he was going to jail.
“He deserved to go to jail. It's like a smack in the face to me and my sister that he didn't.”
One of the dismissed charges was that, in 1994, Clevenstine used indecent language to Melissa, telling her that he would give her a ride in his car “if she ran around the house naked.”
“I don't care if he says he's sorry — he's only sorry that he got caught,” Melissa said.
Toni Clevenstine contrasted her husband's case to that of Lt. Col. Karen Tew, who committed suicide in March after being thrown out of the Air Force after she pleaded guilty to having an affair with an enlisted man.
“All she did was get involved with somebody,” she said. “Skip was creeping around taking dirty pictures of a 13-year-old girl and he gets a slap on the wrist.
“Yes, he did get punished — but he should have gone to jail.”
As in the Tew case, base officials did not announce the Clevenstine court martial ahead of time and released information only in response to media requests. They declined to name the members of the jury, citing privacy concerns.
Clevenstine, a native of Mehlville, Mo., has been on leave since the April 23 court martial. Repeated attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.
Skip and Toni Clevenstine were married in October 1989 while he was stationed at an Air Force base in Rome, N.Y. He had two sons and a daughter from a previous marriage; she had two daughters and a son.
According to the court martial charges, the photos of Toni’s daughters were taken during the summer of 1995 while the family was still in New York.
Toni said their relationship quickly soured, with her husband controlling all the money and making all decisions.
In October, Toni Clevenstine said she went to the Scott base hospital for treatment after a fight with her husband in the on-base residence.
Security police removed Skip from the home overnight, but no charges were filed against him.
Sutton confirmed the attack but said it wasn't part of the court martial because prosecutors didn't know about it until after the hearing.
Toni said her husband's commander ordered him to go to counseling, but their relationship continued to deteriorate.
In November, Toni said she took advantage of an opportunity to investigate a box in the trunk of his car that her husband had ordered her to stay away from.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of pictures of girls with no clothes on in various apartments,” she said. “I didn't know if he was having affairs with them, if he was in some kind of swing club or what.”
She removed two packets of photos, but was interrupted before she could examine them. She hid them in her sewing box and didn't get them back out.
In December, the younger daughter found the photos while looking for something in the sewing box and discovered they included photos of her and her sister in the bathroom in New York.
The pictures were taken through a crack in the bathroom door jamb and showed the girls getting into and out of the shower.
She showed them to Melissa a week later, but the girls agreed not to tell their mother because Christmas was only a few days away.
On Jan. 29, after talking to her mother, Melissa confronted her stepfather about the photos.
“She had my full support,” Toni said. “I was afraid of him, but she stood right up to him.
“First, he lied. Then, his attitude was, ‘Yeah, I did it — what are you going to do about it?’”
Melissa said she was taking the photos to the Office of Special Investigations, the Air Force's criminal investigators.
By the time investigators talked to Skip Clevenstine, the box had disappeared from his trunk.
He told prosecutors that most of the photos were copies of stuff he developed at his part-time job at a Kmart in Rome, N.Y.
He said he took the pictures of Melissa to “have something on her” and claimed the pictures of the younger daughter were an accident.
Clevenstine was ordered to move into a dormitory for unmarried enlisted airmen.
An investigation of him by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services found “credible evidence of child abuse or neglect.”
Toni said that her husband also received several administrative punishments, called Article 15s, for using government computers to download pornography from the Internet and for larceny against the Kmart.
Base officials said they could not comment on possible Article 15 actions because none were included in the court martial.
But they did confirm on Friday that a computer disk containing suspected child pornography had been turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s office for possible prosecution.
The disk was seized with other pornographic material from Clevenstine’s home by Air Force investigators.
The disk was not an issue in the court martial because Clevenstine’s 20-year-old son, Douglas, signed a statement that the disk belonged to him, not his father.
Douglas, who is staying with his mother in Texas, wouldn’t comment.
Because the Air Force does not have a specific charge for voyeurism, Clevenstine was charged under military law with disorderly conduct, an omnibus charge that covers a variety of civilian crimes.
“By listing it as disorderly conduct — by changing what you call it — it’s like changing what it is,” Toni Clevenstine said. “They’re taking the focus off the fact that it’s sexual exploitation of my children.
“My girls did the right thing and I told them they did the right thing and now they feel like they’re being punished.”
Originally Published, May 12, 1997, Belleville News Democrat, Belleville,
(c) 1997, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill
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