Wilkerson had affair that produced a child, Air Force confirms
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, whose aggravated sexual assault conviction was overturned by an Air Force lieutenant general citing Wilkerson’s sterling record and happy marriage, engaged in an extramarital affair that produced a child, the Air Force has confirmed.
An investigation into the matter by Lt. Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern), found “sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations” about the fighter pilot’s 2004 extramarital relationship and its resulting child, for whom he had relinquished parental rights, the command said in a news release.
As a result, administrative actions were taken against Wilkerson, the news release said.
Wilkerson could not be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice because of a five-year statutory limit on adultery or conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.
“In these circumstances, other forms of administrative action represent the sole option available to the commander and he took appropriate administrative actions,” the press release said. The actions were not disclosed; officials are prohibited from specifying administrative actions without written consent of the individual involved, according to the news release.
Administrative actions can range from counseling to reprimands to involuntary separation from the service.
Wilkerson, the former inspector general for the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy, was convicted by a jury in November of the aggravated sexual assault of a sleeping houseguest and sentenced to a year in jail, forfeiture of all pay and dismissal from the service. His conviction and sentence were overturned in February by Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of Third Air Force.
Franklin, in an explanatory memo to the Air Force secretary, said he found Wilkerson and his wife, Beth, more credible than his accuser, a 49-year-old physician assistant, in part because he doubted Wilkerson would risk his stellar career and happy family to engage in sexual misconduct. Among more than 90 letters in support of Wilkerson were several that asserted that Beth Wilkerson would divorce her husband if he engaged in marital infidelity, let alone sexual assault.
“Based on all the letters submitted in clemency, in strong support of him, by people who know him, such behavior appeared highly incongruent,” Franklin wrote.
Wilkerson was released from a South Carolina brig and reinstated into the service. He could not be reached for comment.
Wilkerson was assigned as chief of flight safety for the Twelfth Air Force, located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., in April.
A spokesman said Thursday that Franklin would not comment on the case. In March, Franklin said during a court hearing that he had no regrets about the decision and he was “sleeping like a baby.”
Franklin’s decision and his reasoning triggered a storm of protest from advocacy groups for military sexual assault victims as well as lawmakers, who have been pushing for legislation to strip commanders of longstanding discretion to overturn jury verdicts.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who has introduced such legislation, called on the Air Force “to convene an Involuntary Discharge Board in this horrible miscarriage of justice. For Wilkerson’s gross misconduct, the Secretary of Air Force should also do a grade determination and demote Wilkerson to his rank at the time of his first offense.”
Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, a victims’ advocacy group, said Franklin should be relieved as well.
“The primary grounds on which Wilkerson was granted clemency, for allegedly being a great family man, who could have never breached the trust of his wife, are obviously without merit,” Parrish said. “Lt. Gen. Franklin was wrong about his fellow co-pilot and both the victim and justice paid the price.
Sweeping legislation to entirely remove sexual assault prosecutions from the purview of the chain of command and give it to military prosecutors was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and backed by numerous other senators. But on Wednesday the Senate Armed Services Committee voted instead for legislation introduced by committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would give service secretaries authority to overrule commanders’ prosecution decisions and criminalize retaliation against troops who report sexual assault.
The investigation into whether Wilkerson fathered an out-of-wedlock child began in April after the woman who said he had the brief affair with her learned of his sexual assault conviction and Franklin’s decision to overturn the verdict.
“I guess it’s grating to me that he has no accountability,” she told Stars and Stripes in an interview.
The woman declined to be identified, she said, to protect her children and herself from publicity. She said Wilkerson’s wife, Beth, was aware of the affair and the child.