Congressman Mike Turner (OH-10) and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (MA-3), Co-Chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in response to a letter made public from Lt. General Craig Franklin, the convening authority who dismissed the adjudged General Court-Martial conviction and sentence of 31st Fighter Wing Inspector General, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson. The letter was released today during a briefing by Lieutenant General Richard Harding, Air Force Judge Advocate General, to Caucus members as requested by the Co-Chairs.


“LTG Franklin’s written explanation reinforces the importance of reforming the role of convening authority. His letter highlights just how dangerous and detrimental the convening authority’s central role in the military justice system can be…. Accordingly, this letter raises many questions, but in particular, about the experience and training a convening authority has to make this decision,” wrote the lawmakers.


The Caucus Co-Chairs took issue with a number of the factors that LtGen Franklin based his reversal of the Wilkerson decision. LtGen Franklin stated that he attempted to reconcile some matters of evidence and differences in witnesses’ respective versions of events, even though he did not participate in any of the judicial proceedings. Other issues the lawmakers cite in criticism of Franklin’s rationale include:


-          Consideration of LtCol Wilkerson’s willingness to waive his right to remain silent when speaking to investigators as proof of innocence even though LtCol Wilkerson chose not to testify under oath before the court-martial, preventing cross examination by the Prosecution.


-          His decision was influenced by witness statements and evidence that was either inadmissible or not offered at the trial.


-          Citing Wilkerson’s polygraph as an element he considered in determining Wilkerson’s innocence, even though, Wilkerson failed his polygraph.


-          Relying on the views of children staying as guests in the Wilkerson’s home and neighbors and other individuals who claimed to have observed the Wilkersons as evidence that there was no “tension” in their marriage.


-          Franklin’s statement that the victim turned down offers of a ride home prior to the alleged assault perpetrating the “blame the victim” culture that inhibits effective prevention and prosecution of sexual assaults in the military.


NOTE: A copy of the letter sent to Secretary Hagel can be found here.