Air Force secretary defends general amid calls for his ouster

Franklin’s decision to toss out the guilty verdict in the Aviano case has sparked a major backlash among lawmakers and victims’ advocates, who have pointed to it as the latest example that the military is not properly addressing the problem of sexual assault in its ranks.

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Franklin issued a written statement last month with a point-by-point justification of his decision to dismiss the verdict. He said accusations that he did not take sexual assault crimes seriously enough were “complete and utter nonsense.”

But the justification has done little to halt criticism of his decision.

On Tuesday, Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling for Franklin to be fired, as well as a rebuttal to Franklin’s points.

“Lt. General Franklin must be fired,” Parrish wrote. “Furthermore, commanders, who are not trained in legal process and are immersed in conflicting self-interests and biases, should not have authority over investigation, prosecution, judicial, or appellate proceedings.”

Franklin was able to toss out the guilty verdict against Wilkerson, which included a one-year sentence and dismissal from the Air Force, because the military's judicial code under Article 60 gives a convening authority the ability to conduct a post-trial review.

As the outrage grew over the verdict's dismissal, Hagel ordered for a review of both the case and the underlying authority that allows commanders to overturn verdicts. Last month he made a recommendation to strip commanders’ ability to dismiss verdicts, while leaving in place their authority to reduce sentences.

Donley defended Franklin’s performance as a convening authority and as commander of the 3rd Air Force in Germany.

He said that Franklin has had five additional sexual assault cases under his command, in which he upheld three convictions, slightly lowered the sentence in one and the other was acquitted.

“The message here is there’s more than one case, that he’s been commanding authority for several cases,” Donley said.

Asked about the calls to fire Franklin, Donley indicated he had no plans to do so.

“While some folks are focused on this very important issue, and they were concerned about the outcome, when you think about why you’d remove a commander, there are other things to consider as well,” Donley said. “General Franklin has been doing some important work for us in the Eastern [Mediterranean] with other partners on missile defense. He’s been supervising the work in Northern Africa and Mali. He has been performing well in those responsibilities.”

Still, Donley acknowledged that some people will feel justice was not served in this case.

“It’s harder to see in this mix if justice was served as a part of all of this. People are going to arrive at different conclusions,” Donley said. “What it’s easier to see is that the broad scope of Article 60 probably needs to be changed. That comes through in our analysis, and that’s what we recommended to the secretary of Defense and that’s what he is recommending to Congress.”