Earlier this year, with a flick of his pen, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin
set justice aside and overruled a jury’s verdict convicting Lt. Col. James
Wilkerson of aggravated sexual assault of a civilian contractor at Aviano Air
Base. As his punishment, Wilkerson was dismissed from the Air Force and
sentenced to one year in jail. Franklin's reversal freed his fellow fighter
pilot and reinstated him back into the Air Force, in part because he was described by friends and family as a “doting father and husband.”
To General Franklin, it didn’t matter that Wilkerson had
failed a lie-detector test or that his own legal counsel recommended against
overruling the verdict. Instead, Franklin claimed that Wilkerson’s conviction
and punishment should be overturned because he was a “doting father and husband.” Franklin
failed to mention that Wilkerson had a long
history of misconduct
He had already
been caught peeking over a bathroom stall while a subordinate's wife urinated. Wilkerson
egregiously violated safety standards, pulled rank to fend off law enforcement
officials, was abusive to fellow military officials -- and that’s just what we
know so far.
Despite strong corroborating testimony from independent
witnesses and clear supporting facts on the record, Franklin, who did not
attend the trial, decided that he did not believe the victim. Heard that
before? Unless Franklin is dismissed from the service for his biased
and unfounded reversal of Wilkerson’s conviction, Franklin’s actions will have
a chilling effect on victims who might otherwise report being sexually
assaulted. It sends exactly the wrong message to bystanders, investigators,
prosecutors, judges, and juries who otherwise might try to do the right thing.
It confirms to sexual predators that they face little risk of being
The attack at Aviano is just one of almost twenty thousand similar
incidents occurring every year throughout the military. Eighty-five percent of
victims do not report the crime, mainly out of fear of retaliation, and not
being believed. Most disturbing of all, out of the 3,200 cases reported in
2010, less than 190 reports of sexual assault in the military actually ended in
a conviction. Wilkerson’s conviction was one of those rare instances where
justice was served -- or so it seemed.
President Obama and Secretary Hagel, you must remove Lt. Gen. Franklin and Lt.
Col. Wilkerson for failing our country, and for failing our young service
members and civilians who work on our bases around the world. You cannot allow
this subversion of justice to stand.