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Hagel orders probe of USAF assault case

March 12, 2013 at 3:09 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, March 12 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says an investigation is under way into an Air Force general's reversal of a pilot's sexual-assault conviction.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has asked the Pentagon to consider removing Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force, from duty for reversing the conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson -- who was the 31st Fighter Wing inspector-general when he was charged in 2012 with groping a guest at his home near Aviano Air Base in Italy.

A jury at Ramstein Air Base in Germany convicted Wilkerson in November of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced him to a year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force but Franklin overturned the conviction, saying evidence presented at the court-martial was inconclusive.

In a March 7 letter to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Hagel said he has directed Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and other Department of Defense officials to review the case and determine whether it conforms with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Stars and Stripes reported Monday.

Hagel told Boxer he does not have the authority to overturn Franklin's dismissal but he said he believes the case "does raise a significant question whether it is necessary or appropriate to place the convening authority in the position of having the responsibility to review the findings and sentence of a court-martial, particularly prior to the robust appellate process made available by the UCMJ."

Hagel indicated review of the case had already begun.

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on sexual assault in the U.S. military -- its first session devoted to the subject in 10 years, The Washington Post reported.

McCaskill, a member of the committee, in a letter to Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh III, said Franklin's decision undermines the Air Force's current effort to "erase a culture that has often turned a blind eye on sexual assault."

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