The Air Force has ruled that the sexual assault case against Airman 1st
Class Brandon T. Wright, despite enduring a tangled history of alleged
political influences, will move forward with a court-martial this October.
In the July 30 decision, Lt. Col. Joshua Kastenberg recognized that Wright's
initial case had been exposed to "unlawful command influence,"
but that a second investigation into the charges was viable and supports
a criminal trial in Washington D.C.
Stars & Stripes reports, Wright was first accused of sexual assault back in 2013, where Lt. Gen.
Craig Franklin dismissed the case following an Article 32 hearing at Aviano
Air Base in Italy. However, Kastenberg notes that the case was then recommended
for a transfer and re-evaluation by Lt. Gen. Richard Harding, a now-retired
judge advocate general.
In the ruling, Kastenberg concluded that Harding recommended the transfer
for political reasons—namely because the act of not court-martialing
Wright would give Senator Kirsten Gillibrand more political clout. Senator
Gillibrand has led the charge on trying to install independent prosecutors
into the military justice system to remove favoritism and undue influence,
particularly in sexual assault cases. Harding is an outspoken opponent
of Gillibrand's proposed policies.
According to testimony from Col. Joseph Bialke, Franklin's legal advisor,
Harding had tried to influence him during a phone call at the time of
Wright’s hearing. Both Franklin and Bialke were given forced retirements
after the dismissal of Wright's case, further indicating that unlawful
command influence had occurred.
Harding admits that he opposes Gillibrand's ideas for military justice
reform, but maintains that those opinions did not come into play in Wright's
case. Instead, he says his phone call to Bialke was informative in nature
because he was responsible for reporting on the case to Congress. "I
needed to be able to explain it. I didn’t tell him we needed to
bend to Congress at all," he told
Stars and Stripes. He added that findings in Katzenberg's ruling are "just dead
A History of Supporting Victims’ Rights
Harding also has an alternate explanation of why Wright's case was
transferred to Washington D.C. According to him, Special Victims'
Counsel had submitted a 12-page memo, prior to Harding's phone call
to Bialke, alleging that there was a bias against her client during the
Article 32 hearing. Harding alleges that transferring the case was to
"make sure the process was done right."
Prior to Wright's case, Harding had fought against opposition to ensure
that the Special Victims' Counsel Program was adopted by the military.
The program provides alleged sexual assault victims with advocating lawyers
to assist them throughout the judicial process. Harding now believes that
a bias against him for those efforts has influenced the Kastenberg ruling.
In the end, Harding's actions, no matter what their motive was, exposes
what many believe is an unacceptable atmosphere of cronyism in the military
justice system. "The whole case shows the inadequacy of the convening
authority system," said Don Christensen, former Air Force prosecutor
and president of the Protect Our Defenders advocacy group. He added that
the current military justice system is "saddled with inexperienced
commanders receiving faulty legal advice from people who are not independent,
If you are a military service member facing a criminal charge, then the
time to seek defense counsel is now.
Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law is a highly sought-after military defense lawyer who has represented service
members from nearly every branch of the military. He has traveled the
globe to represent clients both stateside and overseas who are facing
the most serious of allegations and ensures that every legal avenue towards
securing a reduction or dismissal is aggressively pursued.
Start exploring your options today. Contact our firm for
free case evaluation.