But with some physical evidence supporting the alleged victim’s story, the commanding officer proceeded with prosecution on rape, sodomy and other charges. In June 2010, the petty officer was acquitted on all charges.
The political focus on commanding officers’ legal power will build Wednesday at a subcommittee hearing convened by a panel of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The chief judge advocates for all military branches have been summoned, though the hearing’s tone will be set by the first panel of witnesses, a trio of veterans who say they were raped in 1987, 2000 and 2007, respectively.
The Wilkerson case isn’t explicitly on the agenda, but it will be on everyone’s mind.
A married, 20-year veteran of the Air Force, Wilkerson was serving as the inspector general of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy last March when he was accused of sexual assault. A 49-year-old physician assistant alleged that she woke up after a party at Wilkerson’s house to find him fondling her breasts and digitally penetrating her. Wilkerson denied it.
A panel of officers convicted Wilkerson after a weeklong trial last November, during which the woman said she was “just numb most of the time” because of being assaulted, according to an account by the independent military publication Stars and Stripes.
“I’m not myself anymore,” the woman testified, according to Stars and Stripes. “I’m different.”
The trial panel sentenced Wilkerson to a year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force.
Franklin, the commander of the 3rd Air Force, then reviewed the case, including the trial transcript and information that hadn’t been presented to the trial panel, as well as letters supporting Wilkerson. A spokesman said the lieutenant general had concluded that the charges hadn’t been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Speier, the California congresswoman, called the decision a “miscarriage of justice.” Spinner, Wilkerson’s attorney, called it entirely justified.
“These senators,” Spinner said, “do not appear to be concerned with due process of law and the possibility that some women are making false claims against innocent men.”