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Hagel to review Air Force sexual assault case

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com   |   March 11, 2013 at 5:35 PM   |   Comments

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March 11 (UPI) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responded to pressure from Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to review a sexual assault case in which an Air Force lieutenant colonel's guilty verdict was overturned.

In a letter to Boxer and Shaheen, Hagel said he instructed the Air Force Secretary and Pentagon lawyers to review the case in which Lt. Col. James Wilkerson's guilty verdict was dismissed by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin.

"I believe this 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."

Wilkerson was convicted in November of aggravated sexual assault and groping of a guest at his home near Aviano Air Base, in Italy, and was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force. He was released from prison after Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, said the conviction was based on "insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Franklin was released from prison in February and reinstated to the Air Force.

"This is a case that sends absolutely the wrong message," Shaheen said, in calling for a Pentagon review. "If we're going to continue to attract women into the military, which we need to do to have the best and brightest, then we need to address this."

However, because the Air Force Secretary lacks the authority to overturn the dismissal of the verdict, it is unlikely the decision will be reversed.

Still with the military struggling with numerous sexual assault scandals, including one involving accusations aimed at more than 30 instructors at Lackland Air Base, the review is a step toward changing a culture that has left women with limited recourse in the face of abuse.

Read Hagel's full letter:

Letter from Secretary of Defense Hagel to Barbara Boxer, Jeanne Shaheen by

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