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Family Claims Marine Colonel Befriended Them, Abused Daughter

Marine Col. Daniel Hunter Wilson is escorted into a court-martial proceeding on Aug. 30, 2017, aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo by Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com
Marine Col. Daniel Hunter Wilson is escorted into a court-martial proceeding on Aug. 30, 2017, aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo by Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com

CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina -- Col. Daniel Hunter Wilson is a 36-year Marine Corps officer with a history of drinking too much and crossing clear boundaries of propriety when he does, according to testimony and attorney statements.

But accusers say his misdeeds went much further, alleging that, during a brief period last year, he groped and sexually assaulted a six-year-old girl and subjected her sisters to inappropriate touching and behavior.

Then, after Wilson was already facing charges based on those accusations, he is accused of pinning down and sexually assaulting a female friend twice on the same drunken night.

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Wilson's attorneys maintain he is not guilty on all counts, saying some seemingly inappropriate behavior represents jokes taken out of context, while other, more serious allegations leave key questions about the reliability or motives of the accuser.

In opening statements and testimony on the first day of Wilson's general court-martial here Wednesday, it became clear that the charges the senior officer faces stem from three discrete periods in 2016.

Sent Away

For Wilson, the first major event of the year was being removed from his post as liaison officer for Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, Australia, only 10 days into what was to be a six-month tour.

Wilson was sent away in late February after his Australian counterpart complained of multiple incidents of inappropriate behavior, including alleged sexual comments to an officer's wife, requests to another officer for racy photos and underwear belonging to his wife, and a "joke" email sent from a female co-worker's work account to a male colleague.

Only months after moving to a new posting aboard Camp Lejeune as the operations officer for II MEF, Wilson and his wife Susan closely befriended the family of another officer -- a friendship that would end abruptly after the family's six-year-old daughter claimed Wilson had fondled and digitally penetrated her.

Susan Wilson took the stand Wednesday to invoke spousal privilege, giving her the right not to testify concerning her husband.

The family, whose members will not be identified by Military.com to protect the privacy of the alleged victim, had, like the Wilsons, recently moved to Lejeune from III Marine Expeditionary Force in Japan. They had three small daughters: a 10-year-old and six-year-old twins.

Wilson had previously worked with the officer, a major, who testified he saw Wilson as a mentor and someone he admired.

Befriending the Family

The family had endured a challenging military move, staying in multiple temporary housing arrangements before they were able to move into field-grade officer housing at Lejeune in late June 2016.

Both sides agree the families then began to spend a significant amount of time together.

The Wilsons, a couple in their 50s who have two grown children, invited the family to use their washer and dryer for laundry while they were without permanent housing and invited them over often as they were moving into the new home.

On June 29, the day after the family settled into their new home, they were guests of the Wilsons for a cookout.

While the families mingled, Wilson focused his attention on one of the six-year-olds, spending half his total time that night with her, according to her father's testimony Wednesday. They played a lawn game called Washers for up to 90 minutes and roughhoused, exchanging hugs.

Wilson was also observed consuming whiskey, his drink of choice, at one point appearing to stumble drunkenly as he carried the six-year-old to her family's car at the end of the night.

"In fact, on all these nights, you'll hear testimony that [Wilson] was drinking," Lt. Col. John Stephens, lead attorney for the prosecution, said in his opening statement.

That night began a two-week period in which the two families saw each other often, spending multiple evenings together.

Testimony shows Wilson even showed up unannounced at the family's house on two early morning occasions, including one slightly bizarre incident, that the major said struck him as "a little off."

On four of the occasions, the prosecution alleged that Wilson found himself alone and unsupervised with the six-year-old.

On at least one occasion, Stephens said testimony will show that Wilson was seen to walk into a bathroom and wash his hands. He was also seen to disappear into a small unfurnished study containing a bathroom for several minutes before returning to the living room where the young girl was waiting.

Accusations of Abuse

The story took a dramatic turn July 13, when the family was at the Wilsons' home for a dinner with Dr. Jeffrey Ashley, a USAID mission director who had been brought to Lejeune by Wilson and the major to hold a professional military education session for troops within II MEF.

According to her father's testimony, the six-year-old girl had been sitting on Wilson's lap and attempting to show him her belly button when she was accidentally knocked to the floor and began to cry.

She found her mother in the kitchen, who attempted to comfort her. Her mother also gently reproved her, telling her she shouldn't show people her belly button or other private areas.

"[The girl] chimes in very quickly, 'He didn't touch my privacy,' " Stephens said in his opening statement. "[The mother] is taken aback."

According to statements and testimony, the mother followed up, telling the six-year-old that if anyone had touched her, it was alright to admit it and she would not face punishment.

At that point, the girl said Wilson had touched her, indicating where he had put his fingers and saying it had "burned, stung and hurt," according to Stephens.

After this revelation, confrontation took place quickly. The mother told the major to gather the children, as they needed to leave immediately, testimony shows.

Though the officer did not know what was wrong, he began to do so. Then, according to Stephens, the mother turned to confront Wilson.

"You monster!" she allegedly shouted at him.

"What did I do?" Wilson said.

"You know exactly what you did," she responded. "And I don't give a f*** if you're a colonel, I'm going to get you."

The family then left, taking Dr. Ashley with them.

They decided later that night to call military police, beginning a Naval Criminal Investigative Service process that would involve DNA tests and interviews, and ultimately lead to Wilson being charged with sexual assault of a child.

The six-year-old was taken to child advocacy centers in Jacksonville and Greenville, North Carolina, where she was interviewed about her experiences and recollections. Days later, her sisters were also interviewed, a process that turned up new allegations.

The other six-year-old alleged that Wilson would lick her body and spank her while they were together.

Wilson is also accused of offering all three girls whiskey, which he sometimes allegedly called "apple juice."

A Child's Testimony

Much hangs on the testimony of the first six-year-old. DNA analysis of her underwear revealed a male profile, but no conclusive identity. And no one witnessed Wilson inappropriately touching the girl.

Other behavior seemed sinister only in retrospect. When Wilson showed up unannounced one morning, ostensibly to ask if the family needed groceries, he mentioned that the mother had left "panties" behind while doing laundry, a statement that embarrassed her, according to testimony.

While she assumed Wilson was referring to a pair of her underwear, she would ultimately discover that the underwear belonged to the six-year-old Wilson is accused of molesting.

The major testified Wilson behaved strangely during that early morning visit, which came after an evening the two families had spent together.

Wilson also left the family two bizarre voicemails, played for the court. In the first, he assumed a high falsetto, pretending to be his wife, Susan, inviting the family to do laundry. In the second, he and the alleged six-year-old victim are both speaking garbled gibberish, an affect that the prosecution said was out of character for the young girl.

As troubling as the allegations are, they are not conclusive, said Phil Stackhouse, Wilson's attorney.

In the opening statement for the defense, Stackhouse described Wilson as a grandfather figure for the three girls, saying they called him "Uncle Dan."

He notes that the six-year-old twice denied any inappropriate touching happened before saying it did upon further questioning. A forensic psychologist, he said, will testify for the defense that young children can easily be led in such accusations.

"They can be tainted in statements that they make, they can be led in statements that they make," Stackhouse said. "And when it starts rolling, it keeps rolling."

Other possibilities, Stackhouse suggested, include mistaken identity -- she was touched by someone else but accused Wilson. Or, he said, she may have misconstrued a benign touch from Wilson, such as him "scooting" her up on his lap by putting his hand between her legs.

In an NCIS "controlled call" made by the major to Wilson the day after the allegations, the major attempts to get Wilson to confess to molesting the girl as agents listen and record the call.

Played for the court, the call features Wilson vehemently and repeatedly denying any wrongdoing.

"Nothing like that would ever happen with me," Wilson said in the call. Confronted with the allegations again, he calls the situation "tragic."

"I would kill for your daughters," he said. "I would pull a Dexter on anyone who I thought had any inclination to do that to your daughters," he added, in an apparent reference to the television show, "Dexter," about a serial killer who targets guilty people.

Wilson repeatedly asserts that he was never alone with any of the girls, though he does not make clear what he means by alone.

Another Alleged Assault

Ultimately, Wilson would be charged months later, in November 2016.

While the process was unfolding, the Wilsons would become friends with another woman on base, the spouse of a Navy lieutenant commander whose marriage was fraying.

The woman, whom Military.com will not identify, as she is an alleged victim of sexual assault, began spending time with the Wilsons in October 2016.

Although she knew full details of the accusations Wilson was facing, she trusted him and Susan, according to opening statements.

Wilson and the woman exchanged hundreds of text and Facebook messages over a period of several months, according to statements, while Susan Wilson and the woman exchanged thousands.

The three were close enough that, when the woman found herself stranded at their home on Christmas after her husband took his children from a prior marriage to see a movie, she and the Wilsons ended up all sleeping in the same bed.

She was allegedly awakened that night to Wilson hooking his fingers into her mouth. She bit down so that he would withdraw them, and then went to sleep on a futon in another room, but took no further action, said Stephens, the trial counsel.

"She didn't think it was that big a deal," Stephens said. "She knew that Col. Wilson was interested in her, but thought she had squelched it."

The woman nonetheless agreed to take a post-Christmas trip with the Wilsons to Beaufort, South Carolina, to look at potential houses to buy.

The trip, which began Dec. 26 and ended Dec. 29, featured significant amounts of drinking, according to Stephens.

On one evening, Wilson passed out or fell asleep on a sofa, and the two women used an eyeliner pencil to draw a phallus on his face as a joke, a scene captured in a photograph shown to the court.

While original plans had the couple and the woman staying in separate rooms, they ended up reserving a VIP suite and staying together, with the two women sharing the bed, according to the prosecution's opening statement.

But on the night of Dec. 28, Wilson allegedly returned to the room late and intoxicated and jumped on the woman, who lay asleep on the bed.

"He lands on her like a Mack truck," Stephens said, noting Wilson outweighed the woman by more than 100 pounds.

Pinning her down, Wilson allegedly penetrated her with his fingers until Susan Wilson, waking up, forced her husband out of the room.

The same night, Stephens said, the assault happened a second time in an almost identical fashion. Again, he said, Susan Wilson drove her husband out, this time hitting him with a frying pan.

The day following the alleged incident, Stephens said Wilson approached the woman with an emotional apology.

"I'm sorry," Stephens said Wilson said. "You have to have my six."

The statement, a military expression, means to have someone's back or cover for them.

Upon returning to Camp Lejeune, the Wilsons and the woman remained in touch, with Susan Wilson promising to get her husband into rehab, Stephens said.

Ultimately, the woman opted to report the alleged assault to NCIS in early January.

Wilson did end up in a rehab facility that month, but would be removed and remanded to the base brig after the new allegations. He would remain in the brig for nearly eight months until his trial.

While Wilson had been removed from his post the previous November amid his initial charges and had no formal job, the trip to Beaufort would also result in charges of going absent without leave. Wilson did not have liberties and had taken no leave in order to make the three-day trip.

Stackhouse, in his opening statements, said the woman's accusations stood to benefit her, temporarily strengthening her disintegrating marriage as she alleged herself a victim. It's also possible, he said, that she made the accusations to spite Susan Wilson, whose relationship with her had become tense amid disputes involving the officers' wives club.

"[Wilson] was an easy target," Stackhouse said.

Regarding the charges of going absent without leave, Stackhouse said Wilson's decision to make the trip was reasonable considering he had no duties and only had to call to check in each day.

Darwin Misbehavior

As for the incidents that got Wilson sent back from Darwin, Australia, at the beginning of the year, Stackhouse said it was important to view each allegation in the context in which it was intended.

An investigation into Wilson's alleged behavior is still under consideration by the Inspector General of the Marine Corps.

Wilson allegedly told the wife of the outgoing Darwin liaison that he bet her "thighs were sore from having sex with her husband," during a dinner together during which she complained that they were sore from exercise.

He also allegedly connected with a former colleague and, during a drunken phone chat, asked the captain to send him a racy photo of his wife. The captain complied, sending Wilson a boudoir shot of his wife in lingerie. Wilson also is accused of asking the captain for a pair of his wife's underwear.

Wilson would later allegedly go on to show the photograph to Cmdr. Greg Mapson, his Australian counterpart, and make crude comments about it.

At Wilson's office in Darwin, he also is accused of causing a small commotion when he decided to play a practical joke on a female civilian employee in the office who had left her computer unattended. He allegedly used her account to send an email to Mapson, asking him on a dinner date.

Reports of Wilson's activities ultimately made it to Col. Javier Ball, the senior Marine in Australia. Shortly thereafter, Wilson was sent home.

Stackhouse described Wilson's exchanges with the captain as "locker-room banter," saying the two often discussed women they'd seen on the internet and exchanged photographs.

"Pay attention to the relationship they had," he said.

Even when Wilson apparently engaged in inappropriate behavior, Stackhouse said it didn't rise to the level of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

Comments to the colonel's wife, he said, were part of a back-and-forth banter, and had to be taken in context.

"It might not be the line that you would draw," he said.

Awaiting a Verdict

Wilson's court-martial is expected to run 10 days more, until Sept. 9. In all, 37 witnesses may be called, according to a source familiar with the witness list.

That list includes all three girls who alleged Wilson touched or treated them inappropriately, and the woman who claimed he assaulted her.

A seven-man jury hearing the case includes three colonels, three one-star generals, and a two-star general serving as the president of the panel.

Wilson, a decorated colonel with a Bronze Star and seven deployments under his belt, stands to lose his career, his entitlements, and his freedom if found guilty on the most serious charges.

But if the allegations are true, something more valuable has already been lost.

The father of the now seven-year-old girl who accused Wilson of touching her said his daughter has changed since the alleged assaults.

"[She] gets into these moods where, if she gets anxious ... or angry, she has to go and hide. We call these her moments," the major said. "We have to 'love her through it' -- go to her hiding spot, talk to her about why she's upset, why she's angry."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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