Pilot in Overturned Sex Assault Case Reassigned


An Air Force fighter pilot released from jail and re-instated into the service last month after a general dismissed his sexual assault conviction has been assigned to a staff job at an Arizona air base.

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson has been assigned to be the 12th Air Force chief of flight safety at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, according to the Air Force Personnel Center.

"The assignment was based upon his qualifications and the needs of the Air Force," the center said in an email.

Wilkerson's position does not include airmen reporting to him or being rated by him, an Air Force spokesman said.

Capt. Justin Brockhoff, 12th Air Force public affairs director, said that Wilkerson was among more than 20 servicemembers scheduled to soon arrive at the base with new assignments, and all would be received the same way.

"He'll be treated just like any other airman who gets assigned here," Brockhoff said.

Asked whether Wilkerson's assignment might affect morale at the base, Brokhoff said, "I can't speculate as to what other people may know or think. I can't speculate as to how individuals are going to feel."

Wilkerson's case -- and Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin's decision to throw out a jury conviction of aggravated sexual assault -- has created a political firestorm and calls for changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In particular, commanders' authority to dismiss jury verdicts "for any or no reason" is expected to be changed.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered an investigation into the case and a review of the provisions of the UCMJ in response to letters from U.S. senators demanding a review.

"I believe this case does raise a significant question whether it is necessary or appropriate to place the convening authority in the position of having the responsibility to review the findings and sentence of a court-martial, particularly prior to the robust appellate process made available by the UCMJ," Hagel wrote in response to the senators earlier this month.

Wilkerson, 44, was the 31st Fighter Wing inspector general at Aviano Air Base, Italy, an "Air Force superstar," according to a February 2012 performance evaluation. The next month, the F-16 pilot was accused by a civilian physician assistant he'd met only that night of groping her as she lay sleeping in a guest room after an impromptu party at the Wilkerson home.

Wilkerson, whose failure of a polygraph helped spur his prosecution, did not testify at his court-martial.

A jury of four colonels and a lieutenant colonel found Wilkerson guilty of aggravated sexual assault, and sentenced him to dismissal and a year in jail.

Franklin, the Third Air Force commander who had convened the court-martial, set aside the verdict and sentence. Franklin said he did not believe Wilkerson was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Franklin then tried to get Wilkerson promoted to colonel, according to those close to the case, and given a command job.

Air force flight safety officers are pilots assigned to bases to train other pilots and aviation professionals about policies and procedures of flight safety, as well as respond to aircraft accidents to help determine causes of a crash.

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