Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will review a decision by a senior Air Force commander to overturn the sexual assault conviction of an Air Force fighter pilot, reports the New York Times. In a letter to lawmakers, Hagel said he would review the decision by Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, the commander of the Third Air Force, to dismiss the sexual assault conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a pilot at Aviano Air Base in Italy. Wilkerson was found guilty in November of aggravated sexual assault and was sentenced to one year in military prison. General Franklin's unilateral decision to overturn the findings of the court-martial freed Colonel Wilkerson, and allowed him to be reinstated in the Air Force.
Hagel's review comes amid mounting criticism from Congress as well as outside advocacy groups of the Pentagon's handling of a series of high-profile sexual assault cases in the military. In particular, critics have complained about the power of commanders to unilaterally dismiss criminal charges or convictions without explanation. Wilkerson’s case is expected to be a focus of a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on Wednesday. The issue of sexual assaults in the military has been gaining prominence because of a recent string of cases, including those at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where 62 trainees were the victims of assault or other inappropriate actions by at least 32 instructors between 2009 and 2012.