A US air force pilot whose conviction for aggravated sexual assault was overturned by a commanding officer, prompting widespread calls for reform to military laws, now claims he has been “dragged through the mud to satisfy a political agenda”.
The case of Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson prompted a storm of controversy earlier this year, after it emerged that his conviction for assaulting a physician’s assistant had been voided by a three-star general, against the recommendation of his legal counsel.
In his first public remarks about the case, Wilkerson told the Air Force Times on Friday that Eric Fanning, the acting secretary of the Air Force who approved the terms of his retirement, had “apparently succumbed to external pressure from biased victim advocacy groups and congressional representatives on a political crusade in making this decision”.
Wilkerson was based at the Aviano air force base in Italy, where he was serving as inspector general for the 31st Fighter Wing, when he was accused by a 49-year old physician’s assistant of assaulting her as she slept in a guest bedroom at his home after a party. In November 2012, he was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to a year in jail, dismissal and pay forfeiture.
However three months later, in February, Lieutenant General Craig Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force based at Ramstein in Germany, used his discretion under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to conclude that the evidence against Wilkerson was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and set aside the original verdict.
“I have spent the last six months quietly trying to live my life in peace and rebuild my career after serving time in confinement for a crime I did not commit,” Wilkerson said. “All the while, I have watched as my name, and those of my family, have been dragged through the mud to satisfy political agenda without concern as to accuracy or fairness.”
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