Air Force Official Resigns After Criticism Over Sexual Assault Ruling

United States Air Force file photo

An Air Force official who came under heavy criticism early last year for dismissing a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case announced his retirement on Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin in February threw out a case against then-Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who had been found guilty of aggravated sexual assault, sentenced to a year in jail and dismissal from the Air Force.

Franklin, who serves as commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, said at the time that the evidence didn't "meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt." But his decision sparked outrage from outside groups and some members of Congress, who called for his removal.

"My judgment has been questioned publicly regarding my decisions as a general court martial convening authority," Franklin said in a statement announcing his retirement. "This is a distraction for the Air Force and for my role as a general court martial convening authority."

Franklin will retire at the end of the month, after almost 37 years in the Air Force.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called Franklin's decision to retire "the right one," adding that "his handling of sexual assault cases is the best possible illustration" of why extra protections for sexual assault victims were included in the National Defense Authorization Act.

Franklin also came under the spotlight in December, after Stars and Stripes reported that the Air Force asked another commander to take a second look at a sexual assault case that Franklin recommended not be taken to trial. McCaskill noted that if a proposal by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had been enacted "there would be no opportunity for the commander to overrule such a decision and no check on the command."

McCaskill and Gillibrand are locked in a back-and-forth with battling proposals that would change -- to varying degrees -- how the military handles sexual assault cases. Gillibrand's proposal would strip the chain of command of its power to decide whether sexual assault cases are prosecuted.

The Pentagon has been under heavy criticism during the past year for its handling of sexual assault cases.

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