Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, whose widely-criticized handling of a military sexual assault case sparked a national debate on whether to remove sexual assault prosecution from the chain of command, announced Wednesday that he is retiring to avoid being a further “distraction” for the Air Force.
Franklin initially caused controversy for overturning a guilty verdict against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson and reinstating him. Franklin later said he made the decision because Wilkerson did not seem like the kind of person who would commit sexual assault and that the victim, whom Franklin did not personally consult, did not seem reliable.
Franklin made headlines again last month, when he was removed from another sexual assault case after refusing to prosecute it and again refusing to comply with the victim’s request to speak with him.
“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-NY), who is leading the charge to remove prosecution of serious crimes from the chain of command.
Victims’ advocates say that the problem is systemic, and that more cases like Franklin’s are inevitable as long as commanders with no legal training are in charge of deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault cases.
“Franklin was doing his job, basically, under what the current system requires,” Greg Jacob, Service Women’s Action Network policy director and former Marine, told RH Reality Check. The Uniform Code of Military Justice requires commanders to review sentencing, Jacob said, and, whether or not the decision seemed correct, it was Franklin’s to make.
“Until the military changes that and allows professional legal experts … to make judicial decisions, you’re going to continue to have potential for this kind of thing to happen,” Jacob said.