Here's the letter Senators Shaheen and Barbara Boxer (D. CA) sent to Hagel:Two senators have called on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to look into last week’s decision by the Third Air Forces commander to overturn the sexual assault conviction of a former Aviano Air Base, Italy, inspector general.
A jury in November sentenced Lt. Col. James Wilkerson to a year in a military prison and dismissal from the Air Force. Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin set aside the conviction Feb. 26, freeing Wilkerson from a South Carolina brig and reinstating him in the military.
Franklin “declined to approve the conviction because he did not think that there was enough evidence to say that he was guilty,” Lt. Col. Paul Baldwin, a U.S. Air Forces in Europe spokesman, said.
Some have heralded the commander’s decision as an act of justice in a military system that has become over-zealous in its pursuit of sexual assault convictions. Others have said the reversal does untold harm to future victims of military sex crimes who are already hesitant to come forward.
Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., sent a letter to Hagel on Monday asking that he “immediately review” Franklin’s decision. - Air Force Times, 3/5/13
The Honorable Charles T. HagelHere's a little background on the Wilkerson case:
Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Hagel:
We are so pleased that your confirmation as Secretary of Defense is behind you and that you are now able to direct your full attention to protecting our country’s national security.
During your Senate confirmation process, you pledged to take concrete steps to address the crisis of sexual assault within our nation’s armed forces. Now, as you begin your work as Secretary of Defense, we ask you to immediately review a recent decision by an Air Force Lieutenant General to dismiss all charges against a field grade officer who had been convicted of sexual assault.
According to Stars and Stripes, Lieutenant General Craig Franklin dismissed a case against Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, despite the fact that the fighter pilot had been found guilty of aggravated sexual assault, sentenced to a year in prison and dismissed from the Air Force. As we understand, General Franklin has not adequately explained why he chose to overturn a guilty verdict by a jury of high-ranking military officers, allowing Lt Col Wilkerson to be reinstated in the Air Force.
This is simply unacceptable and raises serious concerns about the military justice system as a whole. It is clear that despite sweeping reforms by the Department of Defense to improve prevention, investigation and prosecution of military sexual assaults—including adding specially trained legal personnel and Victim Advocates—these efforts become irrelevant when a case of this magnitude can be thrown out at the discretion of a Convening Authority.
This is a travesty of justice. At a time when the military has unequivocally stated that there is zero tolerance for sexual assault, this is not the message it should be sending to our service men and women, and to our nation.
As such, we ask that you immediately provide us detailed information regarding the basis for General Franklin’s decision, including whether you have the authority to overturn the dismissal of the case. In addition, we urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to take immediate steps to restrict Convening Authorities from unilaterally dismissing military court decisions. We also ask that you work with us as we consider additional legislative options.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical matter. We look forward to your response and to meeting with you soon to discuss this and other matters concerning military sexual assault.
United States Senator
United States Senator
Senator Claire McCaskill (D. MO) even went as far as asking the Air Force to consider firing Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin for overturning the conviction:Wilkerson was convicted on Friday of fondling the breasts of a sleeping houseguest and digitally penetrating her. The March assault ended, the victim testified, when his wife came in sometime around 3 a.m., turned on a light, saw her husband in the woman’s bed and ordered the woman out of the house.
The woman, a 49-year-old physician’s assistant, also addressed jurors before Wilkerson’s sentencing about the impact of the assault on her. “I’m not myself anymore,” she said tearfully. “I’m different. I’m just numb most of the time.”
Prosecutors had urged the jury to imprison the 44-year-old fighter pilot for at least five years, as well as dismiss him from the Air Force. He’d shown striking hubris and recklessness by assaulting the woman with his wife and 9-year-old son sleeping under the same roof, said prosecutor Capt. Ben Beliles, who suggested that Wilkerson would have escalated his assault if his wife hadn’t awoken. “Thank God Beth caught him in the act,” Beliles said.
“It must not be said that Lt. Col. Wilkerson got away with a slap on the wrist,” Beliles said, or that the Air Force didn’t take his crimes seriously.
He noted that Wilkerson had expressed no remorse in his statement. Considerations about the finances of the Wilkerson family, were he dismissed, were ill-placed, Beliles said, especially in light of his wife having lied in her testimony to the court, concocting with her husband a story of why she had thrown the woman out, shoeless, into the cold March morning. - Stars and Stripes, 11/3/12
Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, has been aggressively pushing to crack down on sexual assault of women in the military:Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, wrote to the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force to ask them to review the decision by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin to exonerate Lt. Col. James Wilkerson.
Wilkerson, who was accused of groping a sleeping houseguest in March last year at his home near Aviano Air Base, Italy, had been convicted in November of aggravated sexual assault by a jury of four colonels and a lieutenant colonel.
“As the Air Force and other military organizations are redoubling efforts to erase a culture that has often turned a blind eye on sexual assault, Lt. Gen. Franklin’s conduct undermines this important shift,” McCaskill wrote in the letter to Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. A copy of the letter was posted on her website.
“His decision shows ignorance, at best, and malfeasance, at worst. I strongly urge you to undertake an immediate review of his conduct and consider removing him from his leadership position.” - Stars and Stripes, 3/6/13
I applaud Senators Shaheen, Boxer and McCaskill to continue to fight for the protection and well-being off the women who serve in our military. Especially Shaheen who has been looking for women and openly gay members who serve our country. Shaheen is the author of the Shaheen Amendment that extends abortion coverage for women serving overseas and the Charlie Morgan Act which is aimed to extend all military family benefits for gay and lesbian couples who serve. If you'd like to get more info about this case, please contact either of the Senators' offices and find out how you can get involved:In January, Welsh likened sexual assault in the Air Force's ranks to a cancer and vowed to tackle the problem by screening personnel more carefully and putting an end to bad behaviors like binge drinking that can lead to misconduct.
Welsh told a House oversight committee that the service recorded a disturbing number of reports of sexual assault last year even as it worked to curb misconduct in the wake of a sex scandal at its training headquarters in Texas. Dozens of young female recruits and airmen at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio were victimized by their instructors who sexually harassed, improperly touched or raped them.
Most difficult, Welsh said, is transforming a culture in which victims are often reluctant to report what happened because of guilt, shame or fear they won't be believed. - Military.com, 3/6/13
And if you would like to donate to Shaheen's 2014 campaign, you can do so here: