The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 25, 2013

Family upset over transfer of Air Force officer

Lieutenant Colonel transferred to Tuscon

PHOENIX — The Air Force's decision to transfer a lieutenant colonel to a Tucson military base after his sexual assault conviction was overturned by a commander has outraged the family of the woman who made the allegations, adding to the growing criticism of the military justice system.

The family says Lt. Col. James Wilkerson' transfer of to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on the southern edge of Tucson is upsetting because roughly half the woman's family lives there. They're planning a protest Thursday outside the base.

The news comes amid a congressional uproar over the Wilkerson case, and follows heavy criticism of the military's handling of another case involving sex-crime allegations in California.

"They could send him to a number of places," said Stephen Hanks, an orthopedic surgeon in Tucson who is the brother of Wilkerson's accuser. "Why send him to a place where her family lives? It makes no sense."

The woman, a civilian employee who works with service members, accused Wilkerson of sexually assaulting her after a party at his house. Wilkerson and his wife denied the charges but said the woman stayed at their house that night.

A military jury in November convicted Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy, of aggravated sexual assault and other charges. He was sentenced to one year in prison and dismissal from the service.

But a commander overturned the verdict and dismissed the charges, saying he found Wilkerson and his wife more believable than the alleged victim. Wilkerson already has reported for duty in southern Arizona, where he will work as a safety officer for the 12th Air Force.

Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth said military officials wouldn't have known about the woman's family in Tucson when Wilkerson's transfer was decided.

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