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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Apparently, the Air Force Grants "Get Out of Jail Free" Cards for Rape in the Military

Posted by on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 5:05 PM

Last week, top Air Force commander Lieutenant General Craig Franklin did something incredibly unusual and, frankly, scary: He dismissed a lieutenant colonel's rape conviction after a trial by jury.

According to the AP, Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, who was stationed on an Air Force base in Italy, was convicted in November on charges of "abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman," in an incident that "involved a civilian employee." Wilkerson was dismissed from the military and sentenced to a year in prison.

But Franklin then turned around and dismissed the conviction, citing insufficient evidence—even though, according to this story in the Air Force Times, Franklin was the one who sent the case to court martial and he selected the all-male jury himself. As that AFT article explains, "in the military justice system, the convening authority—in this case, Franklin—can single-handedly reduce or set aside sentences or overturn a jury conviction."

Here's the good news: A group of female US senators aren't taking that bullshit lying down. Senators Claire McCaskill, Barbara Boxer, and Jeanne Shaheen caught wind of the case, and while McCaskill sent a scathing letter to the Air Force demanding an explanation, Boxer and Shaheen contacted newly minted defense secretary Chuck Hagel, asking him to investigate.

That resulted in the Senate hearing today, containing this exchange, according to the AP report:

"Do you really think that after a jury has found someone guilty, and dismissed someone from the military for sexual assault, that one person, over the advice of their legal counselor, should be able to say, 'Never mind'?" Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asked Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, the top officer at U.S. Central Command, at a Senate hearing.

Mattis explained that commanders, including female commanders, have the authority to act for a reason. "And I would just tell you that I would look beyond one case," he said.

After the hearing today, the Air Force Times laid out the stakes:

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.

Now that Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War has been shining a glaring spotlight on the epidemic of rape in the military, it seems insane for something like this to happen. I'll confess I haven't seen the film, only because I keep hearing it's a harrowing experience just to watch and I haven't steeled myself for it. But it seems from reviews and interviews that an important part of the story it tells is how incredibly difficult it is to even report rape in the military and be taken seriously. For a sexual assault case to go all the way through a court martial and get a conviction and then for that conviction to be thrown out by a single commander is mind-boggling. It's insane. Here's hoping those pissed-off senators keep holding military feet to the congressional fire.


Comments (15) RSS

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DeaconBlues 1
I just want to point out that the military is not monolithic in regard to its treatment of rape and rape victims. My old unit took any allegations serious as SHIT. Domestic abuse, too.
Posted by DeaconBlues on March 5, 2013 at 5:16 PM · Report this
Lissa 2
I need a drink. Or five.
Posted by Lissa on March 5, 2013 at 5:22 PM · Report this
Any other exclamations? "Mind-boggling...insane...incredibility unusual..." and the old crutch-when-you-can't-write "shit."

Now that we know your position on an issue in which all you know about it is what you've read from someone else's reporting, how about acting the reporter you might claim to be and tell us why - exactly, precisely - the conviction was erased. Really, even a hint, could you trouble yourself to give us a hint?

Was it possible this was a clearly wrongful conviction, say, and was made right? Jesus, if you're going to grab something off the net and throw it up there in a tirade, lazy as that is, at least try to give more than half the story.
Posted by menace2society on March 5, 2013 at 5:35 PM · Report this
I think it's worth pointing out that judges can overturn jury convictions in the civilian system too, if the judge finds that the evidence presented at trial was legally insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (e.g. the only evidence presented was a custodial confession).

That being said, this does seem different in that the Lt. Gen. Franklin seems to have simply weighed the evidence differently (and considered different evidence) than the jury did, and decided he disagreed with the jury's decision. It's also kind of chilling that he reportedly considered a letter "in support of Wilkerson [that] came from a friend of the accuser."

Posted by Marooner on March 5, 2013 at 5:51 PM · Report this
TLjr 5
Um, where's the Commander in Chief in all this?
Posted by TLjr on March 5, 2013 at 6:09 PM · Report this
SLOG's definition of rape:

The night in question, March 24, began with a concert and drinks at a base club and ended with an impromptu gathering at the Wilkerson home.

The accuser stayed behind after the other guests left. She testified she woke in a guest bedroom to find Wilkerson touching her. She said the incident ended when Wilkerson’s wife walked into the room and ordered her out.

The Wilkersons have maintained the lieutenant colonel never left his own bed that night. Beth testified she got up about 3 a.m. and told the woman to either go to bed or go home because she was walking around the house and noisily talking on her cellphone. The woman left.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on March 5, 2013 at 7:00 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 7
@ 5, um, this is outside his purview. Asking the Sec'y of Defense to investigate is the right call.
Posted by Matt from Denver on March 5, 2013 at 7:58 PM · Report this
NotSean 8…

Wilkerson, 44, the former 31st Fighter Wing inspector general was accused last March by a 49-year-old physician’s assistant of groping her breasts and vagina as she slept in a guest bedroom at the Wilkerson home after an impromptu party.

Posted by NotSean on March 5, 2013 at 8:44 PM · Report this


Sounds like a case of Army vs. Air Force rivalry.

My quote from:…
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on March 5, 2013 at 8:55 PM · Report this

And the story continues...

Over the next several months, the woman said her friend gave varying accounts of what happened that night. She suggested her friend may have made up the story because her contract at work was up for renewal and an “inappropriate alcohol-related incident” could jeopardize it. The woman asked Franklin to reconsider the conviction and “provide an opportunity for justice for the Wilkerson family.”

Ooopss...sounds even worse than I thought. False accusations to hurt a person for economic gain.

Who would have thought that could ever happen.

No. Not here. Not now.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on March 5, 2013 at 8:58 PM · Report this
Puty 11
@Menace: rape much?
Posted by Puty on March 5, 2013 at 9:24 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 12
Bailo, are you really REALLY giving us accounts from the Air Force?

Isn't that a little like trusting a police newspaper to recount correctly a case of police brutality?
Posted by TheMisanthrope on March 5, 2013 at 10:25 PM · Report this
I got to watch AFN (Armed Forces Nettwork) for two years while stationed in Algiers, and I'd say a good 40ish percent of all the advertising slots were aimed at sexual harrassment/rape prevention. The ads are all made by the military for military consumption, and each branch had its own set of ads, detailing what constituted harrassment and rape, what the consequences are (presented as very harsh), and tons of numbers and email addresses that a person who is assaulted could use to report rape. The victims rights and the legal procedures for reporting were also covered in great detail, including the options to press a case anonymously or to take it to court. I am not military myself, but their satellite network really tries very hard to make their audience aware of the issue, and to make information about reporting as easy to access as possible.

I can't speak to how well the military justice system handles cases once reported.
Posted by malwae on March 6, 2013 at 9:42 AM · Report this
Invisible War was an amazing documentary. Its a must-see.
Posted by lilHoss on March 6, 2013 at 10:12 AM · Report this
@11: false rape accuse, much?
Posted by Adversary on March 6, 2013 at 10:13 AM · Report this

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