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Commander orders trial after rape case is reinvestigated

Mar. 10, 2014 - 02:36PM   |  
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An airman whose sexual assault case was dismissed last September by former Third Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin will now face court-martial on rape charges.

Maj. Gen. Sharon Dunbar ruled Thursday to send Airman 1st Class Brandon Wright, formerly of Aviano Air Base, Italy, to trial after the Air Force took the extraordinary step of reinvestigating the case.

The Air Force Central Docketing office is working with government and defense counsel to set a court-martial date for Wright and to assign a military judge, Lt. Col. Kenneth Hoffman, a service spokesman, said in an email.

The Air Force transferred jurisdiction of the case from Franklin to Dunbar after the alleged victim’s attorney complained that her client had been subjected to a biased investigation officer, and that Franklin ignored a request to meet with her before dismissing the charges.

The investigating officer who presided over Wright’s first Article 32 hearing found insufficient evidence to send the case to court-martial and recommended dismissal of the charges. But a special court-martial convening authority, Brig. Gen. Jon Norman, recommended Wright go to trial.

The final decision rested with Franklin, who was already under fire for overturning a jury’s sexual assault conviction in February 2013 against former Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former Aviano inspector general and a fellow F-16 pilot.

Franklin announced his retirement less than a month after his handling of the Wright case was made public in December.Wilkerson was reduced to the rank of major last year after the Air Force confirmed he had an extramarital affair that produced a child. Wilkerson retired in January.

A new Article 32, or preliminary, hearing for Wright began in January at Joint Base Andrews, Md. The accuser, a staff sergeant, testified Wright raped her in July 2012 after an evening spent drinking alcohol and watching movies at her apartment near Aviano.

Wright has denied the charges. His defense attorneys objected to the second Article 32 hearing.

Before ordering the second Article 32, the service’s top lawyer and the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe took another look at the “conduct of the proceedings and were not satisfied the victim’s views were fully heard,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an email in December.

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