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Lt. col. whose overturned sex assault case sparked outrage will retire

Oct. 2, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the former Aviano Air Base, Italy, inspector general whose sex assault conviction was overturned by a three-star general in February, will retire, the Air Force said.
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the former Aviano Air Base, Italy, inspector general whose sex assault conviction was overturned by a three-star general in February, will retire, the Air Force said. (Air Force)
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Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the former Aviano Air Base, Italy, inspector general whose sex assault conviction was overturned by a three-star general in February, will retire, the Air Force said.

Head of Air Combat Command Gen. Mike Hostage issued Wilkerson a show-cause notification, which could have required him to make a case for staying in the Air Force. The notice also gave Wilkerson the option to retire, which he has requested, said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley.

Wilkerson could retire at a lower rank. A personnel board at Joint Base Andrews, Md., is looking at his record of misconduct and will determine the grade at which he is eligible to retire, Tingley said.

Wilkerson, an F-16 pilot, was convicted last November of sexually assaulting a house guest, a 49-year-old American civilian named Kimberly Hanks. Three months later, Third Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin reversed the verdict, which amounted to an acquittal. As the convening authority, Franklin had the final say in the case. Wilkerson was immediately released from prison, reinstated in the Air Force and later assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where he serves as the 12th Air Force’s chief of flight safety.

In June, the Air Force said it had confirmed Wilkerson had fathered a child with a woman he was having an extramarital affair with nine years before, which is a crime in the military but carries a five-year statute of limitations. In a release announcing the findings, Twelfth Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Robin Rand said he “took appropriate administrative actions.”

Rand said the Privacy Act prevented the disclosure of those actions without Wilkerson’s permission.

Franklin’s decision, which was unusual, surprised and outraged victim advocates and members of Congress. 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.

After the Air Force confirmed the extramarital affair, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and two dozen other lawmakers demanded the lieutenant colonel’s discharge. The lawmakers also called for a grade determination to “assess whether Wilkerson should be demoted to his rank at the time of his first offense,” Speier said on the floor of the House July 10.

Wilkerson, who has been in the service for 20 years, was a major at the time of the extramarital affair.

Wilkerson’s case prompted lawmakers to introduce new bills in the House and Senate that would prevent a commander from overturning a verdict handed down by judge or jury or reducing a sentence without explanation.

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