Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, then the 20th Fighter Wing chief of safety at Shaw AFB, is interviewed in 2008.

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, then the 20th Fighter Wing chief of safety at Shaw AFB, is interviewed in 2008. (U.S. Air Force)

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, then the 20th Fighter Wing chief of safety at Shaw AFB, is interviewed in 2008.

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, then the 20th Fighter Wing chief of safety at Shaw AFB, is interviewed in 2008. (U.S. Air Force)

U.S. F-16s return to Aviano Air Base, Italy, after a support mission in Libya on March 20, 2011.

U.S. F-16s return to Aviano Air Base, Italy, after a support mission in Libya on March 20, 2011. (Tierney P. Wilson/U.S. Army/WIKIMEDIA)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — A former Air Force inspector general charged with sexually assaulting a sleeping guest in his home repeatedly denied he’d done it in a videotaped interview with investigators that was played in court on Tuesday.

“I was asleep, 100 percent to my recollection,” Lt. Col. James Wilkerson told the Office of Special Investigations agent. “I know for a fact, I went to sleep alone in my bed.”

Wilkerson, a fighter pilot who served as inspector general for the 31st Fighter Wing from January to May, is charged with aggravated sexual assault, abusive sexual contact and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.

The charges arose after an impromptu party at Wilkerson’s house on March 23, after a USO concert and drinks at the base club.

According to his accuser, a 49-year-old physician’s assistant who had never met him before that night, Wilkerson stole into her bed while she slept in a guest room after friends had left her behind at his home.

He fondled her breasts and touched her genitals before his wife turned on the light, saw the tableau and ordered her out of the house, the woman testified Monday.

Wilkerson told a pair of investigators that he had gone to bed at his wife’s insistence shortly after midnight and was unaware of any problems until the next morning.

That’s when his wife told him, he said, that she had ejected the physician’s assistant from the house at about 3 a.m. without her shoes, then felt bad and made a fruitless search for her before returning to bed.

“I was in my bed. To my knowledge, recollection, belief and heart, I was in my bed,” Wilkerson, wearing his flight suit, told investigators. “I was in my bed, swear to God.”

He and his wife worried, he said, about “the connotation of a woman being thrown out of the inspector general’s house leaving shoes behind.”

“I don’t care who you are,” Wilkerson said, “that doesn’t sound great.”

Wilkerson said his wife told him she had thrown the woman out because she was wandering around the house and being noisy.

Asked by investigators why a woman would invent a story about being sexually assaulted, Wilkerson said he didn’t “have a clue.”

Wilkerson described meeting the woman, who was with two other women, both captains and medical providers, at the base club after the concert.

“They were very giggly,” he said. “They were very into us.”

One of the women, whom Wilkerson referred to as “the psychologist girl,” seemed drawn to the colonel in the group.

“Holy Jesus,” he interjected. “I can’t believe I’m here.”

He repeatedly said he didn’t want the group — driven from the club to Wilkerson’s house by his boss and friend, Col. Dean Ostovich — to come in, that he tried to get them to leave, and that he’d had no sexual designs on anyone.

An agent suggested that, sometimes, with alcohol and an attractive woman, men naturally have sexual thoughts.

“For the record, I didn’t think any of these women were attractive,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said he had become a fighter pilot through hard work, that he had been selected to be promoted to colonel and that he could see it all slipping away.

“Here I am, yet again, fallen into a bucket of crap,” he said. “This is so not good,” he said at another point in the interview. “I don’t know anyone who has survived an allegation like this. Even allegations can take jobs away from people, even rumors. Anything can take things away from people.”

After about an hour of deferential questioning by an agent who repeatedly mentioned Wilkerson’s status and stature, a third investigator came into the interview room.

The woman accusing him, the agent told Wilkerson, was no innocent; maybe she seduced him and the pair had gotten caught by Wilkerson’s wife. Wilkerson denied it.

“You’re lying,” the agent said.

The agent told Wilkerson that, though he was being investigated for aggravated sexual assault, he believed Wilkerson had done something far less serious.

“Quite frankly, you just laid in bed with someone. That’s what I know, a grown man laying consensually with someone else in bed.”

“I did not do it,” Wilkerson replied. “I know for a fact I would not put myself in this situation.”

“I know what you’re doing,” said Wilkerson, who had declined a lawyer. “I did not lay in that bed with that woman.”

The agent told him the woman’s account matched others’ accounts of the night.

“It looks bad, right?” the investigator said. “Your being here, being honest, that’s how you can help yourself with us.”

The defense opened its case Tuesday afternoon by providing jurors with 20 years of Wilkerson’s performance evaluations and affidavits from about a dozen officers. They were also expected to call Wilkerson’s wife, who they said would also testify he didn’t do it.

Wilkerson pleaded not guilty Friday when his court-martial began. He was removed from his inspector general position — unique to Aviano Air Base, where he headed a new program managing base inspections — after the investigation started.

He told the investigators, “I know I didn’t do anything wrong. I know that. You can’t have an IG with this on him.”

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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