A Marine colonel serving five years in prison for a child sex abuse conviction may get a reprieve after an appellate court tossed the central charge against him and sent the case back to the original court for resentencing.
The unanimous opinion cited problems with the child victim’s testimony and a lack of other witnesses in their reasoning.
On Monday, a military appeals court dismissed with prejudice a charge of child sexual abuse against a Marine Col. Daniel Wilson and remanded the case for a rehearing on sentencing — meaning Wilson could soon be released from prison.
The dismissal with prejudice means that prosecutors cannot recharge Wilson under the same charges he faced in his original trial. It makes the ruling a form of final judgement.
The Appellate Government Division — which represents the U.S. before the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals — could ask the appeals court to reconsider its decision.
Wilson is serving a 66 month sentence following his September 2017 general court-martial conviction of child sexual abuse, among other charges.
The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals — in its opinion — said it was “not convinced” of Wilson’s guilt of the child sexual abuse charge “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The military appeals court cited “inconsistent” statements presented during the trial from the then-6-year-old alleged victim, which the the court described as “wholly irreconcilable.”
The alleged victim “was inconsistent in non-trivial ways that cannot solely be attributed to her young age,” the court said in its opinion.
Moreover, the court argued in its opinion that government “presented no physical evidence and no corroborating eyewitnesses who saw or heard signs of abuse.”
The alleged victim’s “statements are the only evidence of the appellant’s guilt," the court wrote in its opinion.
The appeals court cited inconsistent statements from the alleged victim regarding the number of times the abuse occurred.
The court explained that it can’t “discern” how the alleged victim “contends the appellant touched her, when he did so, or how many times she contends the abuse occurred.”
The alleged victim said at the trial and during a July 2016 forensic interview that the abuse occurred only once, according to details in the court opinion. When asked a third time, the alleged victim responded “Maybe like six times,” the court opinion detailed.
Though the court said that it is not “clear” — due to a “poorly worded" question — whether the alleged victim was answering that she sat on Wilson’s lap six times or was “inappropriately touched” six times.
The court also argued that the alleged victim’s statements were not “consistent about the type of contact she alleged the appellant made with her body."
The mother of the alleged victim testified that her daughter told her that Wilson “rubbed her vaginal area.” The appeals court said the alleged victim “never made that disclosure” at trial or during the forensic interview.
“She has variously described that the appellant repositioned her up his chest, ‘pushed it,’ was ‘doing it strangely,’ making the most serious allegation at trial — agreeing that the appellant ‘put his fingers inside of her in some way,’" the appeals court wrote in its opinion.
A footnote in the court’s opinion noted that charge sheets against Wilson did not specify whether the contact with the alleged victim’s genitalia “was either direct or through the clothing, nor does it specify what part of the appellant’s body touched” the victim.
The court also argued that the vast expert testimony in the fields of child psychology, maltreatment, and forensic interviewing did “nothing to resolve our genuine misgivings with the evidence.”
Wilson was originally hit with 24 charges to include unauthorized absence, rape, rape of a child, sexual abuse of a child, battery and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
He was convicted at a September 2017 general court-martial held aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for a charge of sexual abuse of a child on diverse occasions, six specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman and one specification of unauthorized absence.
Wilson was fired after a very brief stint in 2016 as a liaison officer for the Marine rotation in Darwin, Australia. The Marine colonel was convicted for six instances of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentlemen stemming for misconduct during the Darwin deployment.
According to details in the appeals court opinion, Wilson made an “inappropriate comment” to another Marine colonel’s wife, asked a Marine captain to “provide a revealing photograph of his wife;” and showed said explicit picture to an Australian commander, during his brief stint in Australia.
Allegations of child sexual abuse stemmed from Wilson’s interactions with a Marine major, his wife and their three female children aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, spanning June 2016 to July 2016.
Wilson was accused of raping, sexually abusing, licking and striking the then-6-year-old; licking and striking the alleged victim’s twin sister; and for offering alcohol to all three children, according to details in the court opinion. The third child was 10 at the time.
Wilson was only convicted of sexual abuse of one of the children, and was acquitted of the other offenses.
Wilson also was charged with and convicted of unauthorized absence following details that came out allegations the Marine colonel sexually and physical assaulted an adult woman in his North Carolina home and during a trip to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, between December 2016 and January 2017, according to details in the court opinion.
Those allegations highlighted that Wilson was away from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, without approved leave. Wilson was acquitted of the physical and sexual assault allegations, but he was convicted for unauthorized absence.
The military appeals court decision reverses the conviction on the count of child sexual abuse, but does not reverse the other convictions. The appeals court has sent the case back to an “appropriate convening authority” for a rehearing on sentencing.
The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Armed Forces is the highest appeals court for the military, but is limited to hearing cases regarding questions of law — making it unlikely that the government can appeal the recent decision. Wilson’s case before the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals hinged primarily over factual sufficiency.
“Alternatively, if a rehearing on sentence is impractical, the convening authority may approve a sentence of no punishment,” the court wrote in the conclusion of its opinion.
Wilson could soon walk free pending the outcome of a request for reconsideration of the court’s opinion.
Marine Corps Times was unsuccessful in attempting to contact Wilson, and his attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, has yet to provide a comment.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.