By Kristina Wong - 01/08/14 01:05 PM EST
An Air Force general announced his retirement on Wednesday, after his handling of a military sexual assault case prompted lawmakers to call for his removal.
“After much consideration and discussion with my family, I am retiring from the Air Force," said Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of 3rd Air Force, in a statement.
In early 2013, Franklin, commander at the Third Air Force in Europe, dismissed the guilty verdict in a sexual assault case against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson.
Wilkerson was based at the Aviano Air Force Base in Italy, when he was convicted November 2012 of aggravated sexual assault against a 49-year-old physician's assistant who had slept in a guest bedroom at his home after a party and claimed she woke up, as he was groping her. He was sentenced to a year in jail, dismissal from the Air Force, and pay forfeiture.
Under the Uniform Military Code of Justice (UCMJ), Craig used his discretion as Wilkerson's commander to overturn that decision and reinstate him.
His decision sparked outrage in Congress and jump-started the push to overhaul the way the military handles sexual assault cases.
Lawmakers who have spearheaded reform efforts praised Franklin’s decision.
“Lt. Gen. Franklin’s decision to resign is the right one,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in a statement. "His handling of sexual assault cases is the best possible illustration of why civilian review, elimination of commanders’ ability to overturn convictions, and so many other protections are included in our recent defense bill.”
“I am pleased that Lt. Gen. Franklin will no longer serve in his post — but take no joy in this outcome as it's a painful reminder for the victims of military sexual assault that the deck is stacked against justice when commanders hold all the cards,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Gillibrand vowed to continue fighting to take the authority to deal with sexual assault cases outside of the military’s chain of command.
"Nowhere in America would we allow a boss to decide if an employee was sexually assaulted or not except the United States military,” she said. "I will continue to seek to fix this flaw in the UCMJ by passing the Military Justice Improvement Act in the coming weeks.”
The Pentagon stood by Franklin's decision after a review, but it prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to propose stripping commanders' ability to completely toss out a guilty verdict. That proposal was signed into law in last year's Defense authorization bill.
“It is with great appreciation for his honorable service that I have accepted Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin’s request to retire from the United States Air Force,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. "I fully respect his decision and the difficult circumstances under which he made it."