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Rape case going to trial despite earlier dismissal

A rape case that was re-investigated after being dismissed by Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin last year is going to trial.

Maj. Gen. Sharon K.G. Dunbar, commander of the Air Force District of Washington, has referred rape charges against Airman 1st Class Brandon T. Wright, Lt. Col. Kenneth Hoffman, a spokesman for the command, confirmed on Monday.

Wright, accused of raping a sergeant in 2012, is charged with two specifications of rape using force, Hoffman said. No trial date has been set.

Dunbar’s decision followed a recommendation to proceed to trial from an investigating officer who presided over the second Article 32 hearing in the case in January at Andrews Air Force Base, said sources with knowledge of the case but who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss it.

Franklin’s decision to dismiss charges followed a recommendation to do so by a previous investigating officer and the decision was backed by Franklin’s legal adviser.

Hoffman declined to speculate on why two different authorities made different decisions in the same case.

“The convening authority may refer a case when she finds or is advised by a judge advocate that there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offense triable by a court-martial has been committed and that the accused committed it, and that the specification alleges an offense,” Hoffman said in an email. “The convening authority or judge advocate may consider information from any source and shall not be limited to the information reviewed by any previous authority.”

The case was sent to the Air Force District of Washington for re-investigation on orders of top Air Force officials in part because of questions whether the initial Article 32 at Aviano had been conducted properly.

Capt. Maribel Jarzabek, the sergeant’s special victims counsel, in a memo to Franklin last year said it had not. Among the complaints in the memo was that the case investigating officer had failed to act in an impartial manner, as required under military law, was clearly skeptical of the accuser and, when examining witnesses, had acted more like a defense lawyer, sources familiar with the case have told Stars and Stripes.

Jarzabek asked for a meeting with Franklin before he decided the case disposition to allow the sergeant to present her views. But Franklin did not respond, as convening authorities are supposed to do. Authorities disagreed whether at that time such a meeting was required or only encouraged.

New regulations to be enacted this year will require that convening authorities meet with alleged victims at various decision points in cases, if the victims request it, Col. Dave Dales, director of the Air Force Judiciary, told Stars and Stripes in December.

Franklin had previously dismissed Aviano fighter pilot Lt. Col. James Wilkerson’s sexual-assault conviction and sentence, overturning the decision of a five-colonel jury, and re-instated him into the service after springing him from jail. Franklin’s action caused a national uproar and led to a legislative change in the Uniform Code of Military Justice stripping commanders of their long-held power to overturn convictions. Franklin announced he will retire shortly after the transfer of the Wright case became public. His legal adviser is also retiring, sources who declined to be identified told Stars and Stripes.

Wright is accused of raping a sergeant in July 2012 when both airmen were stationed at Aviano Air Base, while the two were watching movies at her home.

Wright’s defense is that any sex was consensual.

Wright’s defense lawyer has argued that his client is a victim of unlawful command influence. “We object to this hearing generally,” Maj. Dominic Angiollo said at the second hearing at Andrews, as reported in Stars and Stripes. “We’ve already been through an Article 32. We thought that was conducted properly.”

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com

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