General defends court martial reversal in sex assault case
Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin
April 11th, 2013
08:19 PM ET

General defends court martial reversal in sex assault case

By Larry Shaughnessy

The general at the center of a military and legal controversy is telling his side of the story for the first time since throwing out the sexual assault conviction of an Air Force officer.

Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson III was found guilty last year by a jury of Air Force officers of sexually assaulting a woman at his home outside Aviano Air Base in Italy.

He spent four months in a Navy brig before Lt. General Craig Franklin, the convening authority in the case, threw out the verdict.

Franklin was the officer who ordered Wilkerson's court martial at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. But military law allowed him to have the final say.

"After considering all matters in the entire record of trial, I hold a genuine and reasonable doubt that Lt. Col. Wilkerson committed the crime of sexual assault," Franklin said in a letter to the Air Force secretary released publicly this week.

Pentagon officials told CNN that it is rare for charges to be dismissed in this manner. Still, it comes as the Defense Department struggles with an epidemic of sexual assault in the military.

The decision angered victims' rights groups and some members of Congress.

"I am extremely disturbed." said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, who chaired a hearing last month on the issue. "I don't know how you can say that having 19,000 sexual assaults and rapes a year is discipline and order."

Much of the anger in Congress was focused on why Franklin, a pilot by training, overturned a verdict reached in a case in which military lawyers acted as defense counsel, prosecutors and judge.

Franklin reviewed the case over a three-week period and used his authority under Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

He detailed why he felt Wilkerson was wrongly convicted, spelling out in his letter 18 problems with the prosecution's case.

They included:

– "When shown clear photos of all the bedrooms of the house, the alleged victim could not identify the bed in which she slept and/or where she claimed the alleged assault occurred."

– "The alleged victim did not remember whether or not the man who she says assaulted her had facial hair. In addition, she said his face was only six inches away from hers." Wilkerson had a full mustache.

– "The woman who took the alleged victim to the hospital the day after the attack wrote a "letter of clemency (in support of Wilkerson)."

– "At different times, the alleged victim's description of the hours leading up to the alleged assault varied."

At the hearing chaired by Gillibrand, the Pentagon's top lawyer hinted that it may be time to change the law that allows a convening authority to just throw out a conviction.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asked Congress to pass a law "eliminating the discretion for a convening authority to change the findings of a court-martial, except for certain minor offenses that would not ordinarily warrant trial by court-martial."

That won't have any impact on the Wilkerson case. His conviction cannot be reinstated.

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Filed under: Air Force • Congress • Hagel • Security Brief
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Chris

    I read the letter and quite a bit of the court testimony. There were many holes in the prosecution's story. Not to mention that the night of the incident, two other children were staying over. Despite the fact that the prosecution contends that the colonel was caught by his wife fondling a sleeping woman, testimony reveals that the two children sleeping over stayed over the night after the incident as well, and the parents and children noted no difference in the colonel or his wife. That and numerous other inconsistencies and gaps makes this conviction smell. Kudos for the general...

    April 15, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Reply
  2. franklovesfl

    Sounds like he made the right call and refused to bow to political expediency.

    Bravo!

    April 15, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Reply
  3. Julia

    This is an example of why the Uniform Code of Military Justice has to be changed. If this had been a an enlisted person the General wouldn't have given a damn. Military Justice Isn't Justice for anyone victim or one charged the rules are just plain weird and ineffective.

    April 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Reply
    • Cindi

      No Julia, your are wrong ! You don't even know what you are talking about. Generals Do dismiss enlisted soldiers charges. Generals do give a damn. You're just too quick to judge like everyone else on here. You don't even know Lt Colonel Wilkerson do you ? You weren't even there. The Uniform Code of Military Justice doesn't need to change. People like you Julia, need to change.

      April 15, 2013 at 3:31 am | Reply
      • Wake up

        Yeah that's only if enlisted personnel have a decent relationship with top brass. Officers and enlisted members usually keep to their own. It's not what you know it's who you know and the military is no different.

        April 16, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • zumaque1

      I was a court reporter in Nam. The red cross demanded a conviction. The evidence to me was that he did not pay. He was convicted to save the relationship of the Red Cross and the military. While they did not reverse the verdict the letters placed in his file as he returned to the U.S. urged swift promotions back to where he was. UGLY experience. Holly should have reversed it, now that I know he could have. Joining the army volunteers you for more than combat risk.

      April 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  4. John Geheran

    This bozo Craig Franklin needs to be kicked out the military once and for all! Men like him a truly a national disgrace and make the rest of us almost ashamed to be Americans! Clowns like him should never be accorded such authority!

    April 14, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  5. George Patton-2

    In doing what he did, this Gen. Franklin proved to be a national disgrace! Anyone who feels the way about crime as he does, should not be in uniform or in any position of authority!!!

    April 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Reply
    • kcal

      You sir, did you read the report? Guess your the discrase if not. Read the full report and reflect back on your post and this artical

      April 15, 2013 at 12:17 am | Reply
      • StygianAgenda

        If you're going to call someone out, at least use 'spell-check'.

        Otherwise though, I agree with your point that we shouldn't judge to harshly considering that the media tends to omit many of the facts that would otherwise shape the public's view differently... which really comes down to the fact that the American mainstream media is *often* nothing more than a group of government shills... either that, or their under clandestine pressure to spin things according to the government's desires... then again... it could be that they are just as misinformed as anyone else, and the powers-that-be that are simply using them as a tool to spread the govt's message of misdirection/misinformation.

        Bah... who are we to believe anymore? Anyone?

        April 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  6. Keith

    REASONABLE DOUBT.

    Read the 6-page letter the general wrote to the Secretary of the Air Force - it is available online - before commenting. There are a lot more issues the general found fault with. The author of this article deliberately ommitted key pieces that further explain his rationale.

    – "The woman who took the alleged victim to the hospital the day after the attack wrote a "letter of clemency (in support of Wilkerson)."

    The part ommitted by the author: "The friend's comments in this clemency letter also indicated a potential reasonable motivation for the alleged victim to have been less than candid in her stated version of event;"

    Next paragraph talks about another person that knows the alleged victim very well and that stated the alleged victim would most certainly lie when it suits her.

    April 12, 2013 at 7:58 am | Reply
    • kcal

      Wow someone read the whole report as well. Thank you sir for having a level head, unlike the rest of these sheep

      April 15, 2013 at 12:12 am | Reply
  7. Shawn D

    Leave it to a flag officer to think they know more than everyone else. A judge, a jury, a lawyers. PLEASE! Who needs a legal system when you have an expert General. I imagine he performs surgery and inspects meat and dairy as well. You know, in light of the defense cuts, maybe we should just put this General in charge of everything. He must be more than qualified for any task.

    The military has a sad sense, and a sad system, of justice. There needs to be change to get these demi-god Generals focused on something they actually know how to do.

    April 12, 2013 at 3:01 am | Reply
    • 1371usmc

      I guess you either can't read or have a comprehension problem? Let me guess you couldn't cut it in the military

      April 13, 2013 at 7:04 am | Reply
    • montgomery

      i dont think you understand how officers are selected they are commissioned by the president himself, then to make the prestigious rank of high level military officers such as Generals and Admirals you must again be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the military establishment and the Congress.

      April 14, 2013 at 2:13 am | Reply
  8. He did what he thought was right...

    ...but it will cost Gen Franklin his career. He'll never get a fourth star, ever. I guess you can't put a price on your dignity and integrity, as misguided as it may be.

    April 12, 2013 at 2:19 am | Reply
    • his career...

      He may not get a 4th star but he will be making $7,000+ a month for the rest of his life when he retires.

      April 12, 2013 at 9:13 am | Reply

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