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Former Aviano IG receives 1-year sentence

Nov. 5, 2012 - 02:52PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 5, 2012 - 02:52PM  |  
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An F-16 pilot and former inspector general for the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy, will spend a year behind bars before he is kicked out of the Air Force for sexually assaulting a woman in his home in March.

An all-male jury of four colonels and one lieutenant colonel convicted Lt. Col. James H. Wilkerson on Nov. 2 of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three specifications of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman, Capt. Eric Saks, chief of public affairs at Aviano, said in an email.

The charges arose from a March 24 incident at Wilkerson's home. The former IG got into bed with the woman, an American civilian identified as "K.M.," and engaged in a sexual act while she was "substantially incapable of appraising the nature of the sexual act," the charge sheet in the case said.

The victim, a 39-year-old physician's assistant, had attended a party at Wilkerson's home following a USO concert and drinks at the base club, according to a Stars and Stripes report. After the party, the woman went to sleep in a guest room. She awoke about 3 a.m. to find Wilkerson in her bed. Wilkerson fondled the woman's breasts and digitally penetrated her, the charge sheet said.

The assault ended when Wilkerson's wife walked in, turned on the light and threw the woman out of the house without her shoes, the newspaper reported.

Wilkerson pleaded not guilty to all the charges and maintained to investigators he never left his own bed that night. His wife, who backed Wilkerson's story, testified she ejected the woman because she was wandering around the house and making too much noise, the news report said. She later felt bad about it and went on a futile search for her, she testified.

Also at trial, the prosecution introduced evidence that Wilkerson had been in trouble before; he'd peeked over a bathroom stall at the wife of a subordinate as she urinated, Stars and Stripes reported.

Col. Davis Walker, commander of the 31st Operations Group at Aviano and Wilkerson's supervisor since his reassignment amid the allegations, testified on behalf of the accused. One of the prosecutors, Col. Donald Christensen, asked Walker if he was aware of the stall incident, according to the report.

Walker said he was. "I think we're all human and can make mistakes. I think his mistakes were minor," the paper quoted the commander as saying.

The court-martial, presided over by military judge Col. Jefferson B. Brown, lasted a week. Jurors deliberated for about three hours before returning guilty verdicts on all charges, Saks said. They could have impose anywhere from no jail time to 30 years' imprisonment, he said.

The prosecution team — Christensen, Capt. Benjamin Beliles and Capt. Vy Nguyen — asked jurors to for a five-year sentence.

They instead gave Wilkerson a year and ordered his dismissal from the Air Force. Wilkerson will also have to register as a sex offender.

Next, a record of trial will be prepared and served on Wilkerson, Saks said. He will then have the chance to appeal for clemency. Saks said it is unclear how long that will take.

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