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Lt. col. granted clemency in sex assault case to retire as major

Oct. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the former Aviano Air Base, Italy, inspector general whose sex assault conviction was overturned by a three-star general in February, will retire as a major.
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the former Aviano Air Base, Italy, inspector general whose sex assault conviction was overturned by a three-star general in February, will retire as a major. (Air Force)
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Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the former Aviano Air Base, Italy, inspector general whose overturned sexual assault conviction triggered calls for change to long-standing military law, will retire Jan. 1 at the rank of major.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning approved Wilkerson’s retirement on Wednesday, Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

Fanning “concluded that Wilkerson did not serve satisfactorily in the grade of lieutenant colonel,” Tingley said.

Head of Air Combat Command Gen. Mike Hostage had issued Wilkerson a show-cause notification, which could have required him to make a case for staying in the Air Force. Since Wilkerson, an F-16 pilot, had more than 20 years of service, he was also given the option to retire.

“The acting secretary’s action was made in the course of a required officer grade determination upon Wilkerson's request to retire,” according to the Air Force statement. “An officer is retired in the highest grade in which he or she served on active duty satisfactorily as determined by the service secretary.”

Wilkerson was convicted last November of sexually assaulting a house guest, a 49-year-old American civilian named Kimberly Hanks. Three months later, Third Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin reversed the verdict, which amounted to an acquittal. As the convening authority, Franklin had the final say in the case. Wilkerson was immediately released from prison, reinstated in the Air Force and later assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where he serves as the 12th Air Force’s chief of flight safety.

In June, the Air Force said it had confirmed Wilkerson had fathered a child with a woman he was having an extramarital affair with nine years before, which is a crime in the military but carries a five-year statute of limitations. In a release announcing the findings, then-Twelfth Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Robin Rand said he “took appropriate administrative actions.”

Wilkerson was a major at the time of the affair.

Rand recently took the helm of Air Education and Training Command.

Franklin’s decision, which was unusual, triggered lawmakers to introduce bipartisan legislation in both the House and Senate that would prevent military commanders from overturning a verdict handed down by a judge or jury or reduce a sentence without explanation.

After the Air Force confirmed the extramarital affair, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and two dozen other lawmakers demanded the lieutenant colonel’s discharge. The lawmakers also called for a grade determination to “assess whether Wilkerson should be demoted to his rank at the time of his first offense,” Speier said on the floor of the House July 10.

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