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Sex charges dropped; Aviano IG freed from brig

Feb. 26, 2013 - 05:36PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 26, 2013 - 05:36PM  |  
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Lt. Col. James Wilkerson
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson ()
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The commander of 3rd Air Force has dismissed charges against a former Aviano Air Base, Italy, inspector general convicted in November of sexually assaulting a houseguest.

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service, will be released from the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., and reinstated in the Air Force, multiple sources close to the case said Tuesday. Wilkerson has been jailed since his Nov. 2 conviction on charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three specifications of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman in the March 24 incident.

"A General Court Martial Convening Authority is required to consider the record of trial and determine the appropriate dispositions of the case. After careful deliberation, the Convening Authority in this case, Lt Gen Craig Franklin, concluded that the entire body of evidence was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Lt. Col. Paul Baldwin, spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said in an emailed statement.

There was no physical evidence in the case, which essentially pitted the word of Wilkerson, an F-16 pilot and 20-year veteran, and his wife against the accuser, a 49-year-old American civilian employed as a physician assistant.

The accuser said she had fallen asleep in a guest bedroom at the Wilkerson home after an impromptu party there and woke to Wilkerson accosting her in bed. She testified the assault stopped when Wilkerson's wife, Beth, walked into the room and ordered her out.

The Wilkersons said no such thing happened. Wilkerson did not leave his own bed that night, they both maintained. The woman, who had been walking around the house and talking on her cellphone, left about 3 a.m. when Beth told her to either go to bed or leave, Beth Wilkerson testified.

Wilkerson's civilian lawyer, Frank Spinner, said shortly after the conviction that the judge refused to allow testimony that would impeach the honesty of the accuser and witness testimony and affidavits that addressed the defendant's "character for truthfulness" — two factors he said would form the basis of the automatic appeal.

"Sexual assault is a serious crime and there is no place for it in the Air Force," Baldwin's statement continued. "We take every allegation of sexual assault seriously because it harms our most important resource, our Airmen. Although sexual assault cases are handled by commanders at the lowest appropriate level, all cases receive appropriate senior leadership attention. Every Airman is a vital member of our team and deserves to be treated with dignity, honor and respect."

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