Lt. Col. James Wilkerson (Air Force)
More than two dozen lawmakers have demanded the ouster of a lieutenant colonel who fathered a child eight years ago with a woman he was having an affair with — a revelation that came after a three-star general overturned his sexual assault conviction, in part, on the basis that he was a model airman and family man.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called on the Air Force to “convene an involuntary discharge board” and conduct a grade determination that would demote Lt. Col. James Wilkerson to his rank at the time of his affair in a June 21 letter to Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning. Twenty-five members of the House of Representatives signed the letter.
Wilkerson, an F-16 pilot and former inspector general at Aviano Air Base, Italy, was convicted by an all-male jury of officers in November of sexually assaulting a sleeping house guest. In February, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the verdict, setting Wilkerson free from a South Carolina brig and re-instating him into the Air Force.
Franklin wrote in a letter to military leaders he did not believe Wilkerson was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He based the decision, in part, on nearly 100 letters from Wilkerson’s supporters who described him as a doting father and family man who was incapable of committing such a crime. One letter came from Wilkerson’s wife, who claimed the couple had been “happily married” for 16 years and that if she caught him as the prosecution claimed she would have testified against him.
Franklin’s reversal of the verdict has led to legislation that would limit a commander’s future authority in such cases. It sparked an outcry among lawmakers and victim advocates who have long been critical of the military’s criminal justice system, which allows a commander to grant clemency before the case goes through an appeals process.
Franklin’s decision was final.
Wilkerson has maintained his innocence. His supporters say he is a casualty of the military’s zealous prosecution of alleged sex crimes in the wake of pressure from Washington.
The Air Force announced earlier this month it had taken disciplinary action against Wilkerson for the affair but was further restricted by a five-year statute of limitation on adultery.
Speier said the affair was consistent with much of the evidence presented by the prosecution at trial and “further illustrates the flawed judgment of Gen. Franklin in this case. It also exposes, yet again, the deficiencies in the Uniform Code of Military Justice that we are working to address,” she wrote.