Lt. Col. James Wilkerson (Air Force)
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A lieutenant colonel who saw his sexual assault conviction overturned in part because a three-star general thought he was a committed husband turns out to have a child from an affair more than eight years ago, the Air Force confirmed.
A command-directed investigation substantiated allegations Lt. Col. James Wilkerson had an extra-marital affair that produced a child, according to a news release from the Twelfth Air Force.
Wilkerson, an F-16 pilot and former inspector general, was convicted in November of sexually assaulting a sleeping house-guest at Aviano Air Base, Italy. In February, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin reversed that decision — a move that incited a conflagration among lawmakers and victim advocates who have since called for sweeping changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
In April, the Air Force released a six-page memo Franklin wrote defending his decision, which went against the recommendation of his staff judge advocate.
“I was perplexed in relation to this conundrum — Lt. Col. Wilkerson was a selectee for promotion to full colonel, a wing inspector general, a career officer, and described as a doting father and husband. However, according to the prosecution, [Wilkerson,] in the middle of the night, decided to leave his wife sleeping in bed, walk downstairs past the room of his only son and then decided to commit the egregious crime of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman who he and his wife had only met earlier that night,” Franklin wrote.
Franklin also said the clemency package submitted on behalf of Wilkerson was among the most extensive he’d ever seen. Dozens of people wrote character letters on Wilkerson’s behalf.
Wilkerson’s wife, Beth Wilkerson, and father-in-law, retired Col. Omer Ward, have adamantly defended him. Ward told Air Force Times in November that Beth Wilkerson had no reason to lie. “She told me when she found about this, ‘If I caught my husband in bed with a woman like they said I did, I would leave him in a heartbeat.’”
Adultery is a crime in the military but has a five-year statute of limitations. The Air Force news release said Wilkerson could not be court-martialed or brought before an Article 15 hearing for the affair but Twelfth Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Robin Rand “took appropriate administrative actions.”
The Air Force said the Privacy Act prevented the disclosure of those actions without Wilkerson’s permission.
Wilkerson is declining all requests for interviews and statements, Twelfth Air Force spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff said in an email.
Franklin could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who has helped lead the charge to change the UCMJ, also declined to comment.
New bills introduced in the House and Senate would prevent a commander from overturning a verdict handed down by judge or jury or reducing a sentence without explanation.