AVIANO, Italy — An Air Force lieutenant colonel charged with aggravated sexual assault pleaded not guilty Friday, the first day of his court-martial at Aviano Air Base.
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who served as the 31st Fighter Wing inspector general from January to May, pleaded not guilty to assault, abusive sexual contact and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.
Wilkerson is accused of sexually assaulting a civilian woman at a party in March in his home near the air base.
The case will revolve primarily around “recall and memory,” prosecutors said during jury selection.
The accuser was “substantially incapable of appraising the nature of the sexual contact,” according to the charge sheet.
Lawyers on Friday told prospective jurors that substantial amounts of alcohol had been drunk.
The defense will argue that it never happened; that no sexual contact between Wilkerson and the alleged victim took place. Defense laywer Frank Spinner during a motions hearing Friday after the jurors were dismissed said that his client, if he testified, would say he was asleep.
The trial is expected to include conflicting testimony between the alleged victim and Wilkerson’s wife.
According to prosecutors, Wilkerson’s wife found her husband and the alleged victim in bed together in the middle of the night. But Spinner told the judge Friday that Wilkerson’s wife would testify that was untrue. Instead, he said, the wife would testify she found the alleged victim wandering around the house about 3 a.m. after being awakened by creaking floor boards.
Ten prospective jurors were whittled to the five who will decide the case: four colonels and one lieutenant colonel. All are men, as is the judge, the three prosecutors and the two defense lawyers.
Wilkerson, a former F-16 pilot and 31st Operations Group deputy commander, has been a special assistant to the 31st Operations Group commander since the investigation began into the alleged crime. His inspector general job was unique to Aviano Air Base; he headed up a new program charged with managing base inspections.
Opening statements were scheduled for Monday. The trial is expected to last about four days.