Rape: Air Force Commander Overrules, Tosses Out A Jury’s Sexual Assault Conviction

Lt General Craig A. Franklin, a U.S. Air Force Commander, has overruled and tossed out a military court jury's decision that found Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson guilty of sexually assaulting his subordinate, a woman service member who serves in the Air Force as a physician's assistant. The assault occurred while the victim lay sleeping.

"Franklin’s decision to set aside the verdict freed Wilkerson after four months in a South Carolina brig, erased his conviction and restored the F-16 pilot, who’d been selected for promotion, to full-duty status," Stars and Stripes reported.

"Lt General Craig Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force based at Ramstein in Germany, exercised his discretion under the Uniform Code on Military Justice and concluded that the entire body of evidence was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As the 'convening authority,' Franklin, who did not interview the victim, was not required to provide further explanation for his ruling and his disposition is final," the Guardian UK reports:

In her testimony she says she had endured "public humiliation" and was relieved when the trial was over. She said: "The actions taken by General Franklin are shocking and disappointing. Why bother to put the investigators, prosecutors, judge, jury and me through this if one person can set justice aside, with the swipe of a pen. I am 49 years old. I'm pretty together, but if it was this hard on me, what's in store for a young airman? I did the right thing. I was sexually assaulted, and I reported it."

The victim said: "[And now] General Franklin has made sure that his decision cannot be changed. What really scares me is that [the perpetrator] will remain in a position of military leadership. Really? Leadership?"

On Monday night, Chuck Hagel, the new defence secretary, weighed into the case, directing a Pentagon review of the ruling to determine whether changes are needed in the way sexual abuse cases are handled.

In a letter to two Democratic senators – Barbara Boxer of California and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire – who had demanded he look into the case, Hagel said that while Franklin's ruling cannot be overturned, he had asked Pentagon lawyers and the secretary of the air force to review the way he decided the case. He has also asked them to determine whether changes need to be made to the UCMJ.

At the end of a week-long court martial, in which Wilkerson did not testify, he was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to a year in jail, with dismissal from the air force and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

At sentencing, prosecutor Captain Ben Beliles said that Wilkerson had shown striking hubris and recklessness by assaulting the woman with his wife and nine-year-old son sleeping under the same roof. He noted that Wilkerson expressed no remorse and urged the jury to imprison him for five years.



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