I grieve for a woman I don't know.
She has been placed on trial and found wanting. The irony is that the trial wasn't intended to prosecute her actions but those of the man who sexually assaulted her. The further irony is that the judge and jury found that man guilty, exonerating this women from the implied guilt that all of women face when we cry the word 'rape' or 'sexual assault.'
No, for some small moment in time, this woman must have felt relief that her assailant had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault.
But her relief has turned to anguish. Lt. General Craig A. Franklin has overturned the conviction. He ordered the release of Lt. Col. Wilkerson on February 26 claiming, via a spokesperson, mind you, that there was insufficient evidence. Gen. Franklin believes his review of the case, and the letters he received in support of Wilkerson, hold more weight than the testimony of witnesses and the court martial authority of the judge and a jury of Wilkerson's peers.
Before the sentencing, Wilkerson "pleaded with the all-male jury of four colonels and a lieutenant colonel for 'compassion.'" They met his pleas with a sentence of a year in jail and dismissal for the Air Force. That also meant no promotion to colonel and no retirement for his years of service.
And now Wilkerson is free. He will likely retire with full benefits. It is unlikely he will be promoted but that is still up in the air, believe it or not.
Why, you ask, did a general do this? You aren't alone in wondering what in the hell is going on. I can only hope you will become one of the many voices demanding justice in this case.
The military code of justice allows for the convening authority of a court martial hearing to change a sentence. In this case, that convening authority is Gen. Franklin. He is prevented by law from making the punishment any harsher but obviously he can make a sentence lighter or make it go away altogether.
In Wilkerson's case, the jury already made his sentence light. They could have sentenced the man to up to 30 years in prison. They chose 1 year for an account of abusive sexual contact and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. In retrospect, they made the sentence so light that it was relatively easy for Gen. Franklin to wave it away with his royal scepter. And I think there are two reasons why.
One, Wilkerson's family will be punished for his illegal actions. We know that he has a wife and a 9 year old son, both who were at home during the time of the assault. In fact, the assault was stopped mid-way when his wife walked into the guest room to find her husband attacking their guest. I don't know this family's financial situation but if they are like many an Air Force officer's family, she is unlikely have built her own career or possibly even to have found gainful employment at each assignment. She and her son depend on his father not only for salary but for the health care they receive and the housing where they live. As soon as Wilkerson was convicted, that all disappeared and a family was left trying to pull together a life from the shredded pieces that remained. I am certain that this weighed heavily on Gen. Franklin.
Two, the judge disallowed testimony from the victim's ex-husband's current wife. Yes, you read that correctly and you probably already understand why that testimony was removed. But this feeds into the entire problem with cases of sexual assault. The defense attorney obviously wanted to put the victim on trial and the judge held strong and did not allow that to happen. Unfortunately, it didn't matter because Gen. Franklin ruled instead. When he removed Wilkerson's conviction, he also placed the blame squarely on the victim. After all, she must have done something to ask for it, right? I can just imagine the thought process going on in that man's brain.
I am sure that Gen. Franklin did not expect to make waves as far away as Washington DC but he has done exactly that. I bet Gen. Franklin hasn't taken the time to watch The Invisible War. I do know that Gen. Welsh, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, has. He has spoken many times about the Air Force's need to stop the tide of sexual assaults. He will be meeting with Senator Claire McCaskill today to discuss this very case. I am sure she will mention that Gen. Franklin's actions have made it very clear that it is time to remove the right of military officers to make decisions about sexual assault cases. It is time for civilian oversight.
Before this case, I was a military wife who believed that our officer corps could do better. I thought that education alone would make a difference. I really believed that having officers watch The Invisible War could change the atmosphere. But now I have serious doubts because one general has made a laughing stock of the entire court martial process. Whether he did it for the family or for his friend, we know that he did not consider the morale and welfare of the thousands of women serving in the military nor the thousands of women supporting that community. And he certainly did not consider the victim herself. Shame on General Franklin.
You can help in two ways. Contact your Senators and make sure they are aware of this case. And sign the petition to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asking him to live up to his promise to truly institute Zero Tolerance.
7:49 AM PT: Militarytracy made a comment below that is worth highlighting:
Stars and Stripes insinuates it's a brotherhood (1+ / 0-)http://www.dailykos.com/...
And between Wilkerson, Franklin, and Breedlove (interviewed about it and thought the right thing had been done)....all three are F-16 pilots and all three had been the 31st Fighter Wing inspector general at some point in their career (which is really frightening too...they had all been the IG in their past...so much for law and order).