Maj. Clarence Anderson was convicted of sexual assault in April, 2015 and is currently serving a 42-month prison term. He and his family have steadfastly maintained his innocence, petitioning the Air Force’s courts and generals to revisit his case.
Now, a United States Senator has jumped into the case, insisting in a January 24th letter to the Secretary of the Air Force that his office be provided information on how Anderson’s appeal has been handled.
Objectively, there is reason to believe Anderson has been wrongfully convicted, and that he is rotting in jail having committed no crime.
The trouble began for Anderson when he discovered his wife, Kendra, was having an affair. Anderson filed for divorce, and a bitter battle ensued for custody of their child. As the proceedings got heated, Kendra contacted military officials and accused him of sexually assaulting her. Anderson says this was retaliation for his refusal to grant her custody.
The evidence against Anderson in the subsequent sexual assault case consisted almost entirely of Kendra’s word against his. There was no physical evidence, no eyewitness testimony, and no forensics. Mainly just the insistence of an estranged wife with a strong motivation to see her husband convicted, along with the testimony of the man she had an affair with, later giving birth to his child.
The case was so weak that Florida law enforcement authorities declined to pursue it. Air Force prosecutors, ignoring the lack of evidence, jumped at the chance to condemn a male officer and harvest the political favor that comes with looking tough on sexual assault.
Ultimately, Anderson was found guilty at court martial. What happened next beggars belief.
In October of 2015, Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District petitioned the Air Force to look into Anderson’s case. Roby advanced a claim on behalf of Beatrice Anderson, Clarence’s mother and his chief advocate. Here’s the key excerpt:
The claim, since validated, was that Kendra’s mother paid her lover a large sum of money in exchange for his testimony against Anderson at court. This constitutes witness tampering. While the Air Force lacked jurisdiction to pursue the issue against any of the involved parties, it could have accepted assistance from civilian law enforcement — something which Air Force officials reportedly declined. Of course, it could also have taken positive steps to re-look Anderson’s case in light of the evidence his trial may have been impure.
Instead, Roby’s inquiry was met mainly with bureaucratic dithering and dissembling. But she was given an assurance from the service’s legislative liaison that Anderson’s claim of tampering would be permitted to bear on his trial result. Here’s a snip from that response (my emphasis):
This assurance turned out to be utterly false. At Anderson’s post-trial hearing, the Military Judge asserted that he lacked the authority to take any action in Anderson’s case because the trial record had already been authenticated. In other words, his conviction and sentence were final.
Now, first of all, this is complete horseshit. Military judges are not constrained from taking action because a trial record has been authenticated. That’s an administrative milestone, not a legally significant one.
Second of all, this is contradictory. Roby had been promised by the Air Force that the post-trial hearing would be the venue where his valid complaint about witness tampering in his trial would be fairly ruled upon. Either that promise was ill-informed, or the Air Force failed to keep that promise. Either way, the service’s highest level leaders are complicit in misleading a member of Congress and should be called to account. This is one more reason Gen. Mark Welsh should stand for grade determination.
But finally, and most distressingly, the judge took it upon himself to determine that the tampering, even if it occurred, “probably” would not have made a difference in the trial outcome, and therefore would be considered harmless. This is, by the way, the same judge who presided over Anderson’s trial. Little wonder he bend over backwards in finding a way to uphold the result of a trial he oversaw.
The situation has now escalated, with Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama sending Heather Wilson the letter below:
This case is disgraceful. There is maybe no other case that more accurately reflects the Air Force’s complete embrace of corrupt politics in its legal system. This is a trial that should not have happened in the first place, should have been halted and dissolved at many points along the way, and should have been tossed out when the sordid truth became evident to responsible officials.
Instead, it stands … while gutless, tap-dancing generals mislead Congress with zero accountability. All so we can avoid admitting we got it wrong.
We’ll be watching this closely to see if Wilson has the moral and ethical sturdiness to do the right thing. Whether Maj. Clarence Anderson continues to rot in jail to pacify a vindictive and cheating wife while justifying the folly of a kangaroo court system will depend on whether Wilson and her leadership team have the guts to admit a mistake and set about reforming a visibly ailing and corrupt system.