An influential senator who was outraged by the Third Air Forces commander's decision to overturn an Air Force lieutenant colonel's sex assault conviction will meet Tuesday with Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh.
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson had been sentenced to up to a year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force, but Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin set the conviction aside on Feb. 26, clearing the way for Wilkerson to be released from prison and return to active duty.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she wants to meet with Welsh to review Franklin's decision. She has proposed Franklin be removed from his job, and said she is also considering introducing legislation that would remove clemency authority for commanders.
"I think it's time we take a hard look the rules of criminal justice within the military," McCaskill told Air Force Times. "As someone who spent a lot of time in the courtroom prosecuting rape, sodomy and sexual assault cases, I am offended that a jury — by the way, a jury selected by the same guy who decided to say never mind — convicts this man of sexual assault and then it is undone with the stroke of a pen."
The day after she meets with Welsh, the House Armed Services committee will hold a hearing on sexual assault in the military. McCaskill anticipates the Franklin decision will come up.
"I understand the latitude commanders need," she said. "On the other hand, we've got a pervasive problem of sexual assault in the military. The last thing we need to do is wipe a conviction clean in a way that looks arbitrary. That sends a signal to women who have been sexually assaulted in the military that only a fool would come forward and risk harm to their career and the psychological harm that comes with pursuing these cases."