Military judge convicts Air Force general of sexual assault in 2018

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — A military judge found Maj. Gen. Bill Cooley guilty of sexually assaulting his sister-in-law in 2018, ending the first full court-martial of an Army general on Saturday. ‘air.

Col. Christina Jimenez, who is presiding over the trial, is expected to sentence the former Air Force research lab commander on Monday. He faces up to seven years in prison, discharge from the Air Force and withholding pay, and a possible place on the National Sex Offender Database.

After about five hours of deliberation on Friday and an overnight recess, Jimenez — the chief military judge for the Air Force Trial Judiciary, Western Circuit, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. — found Cooley guilty of forcibly kissed the woman, the first specification in a single accusation of abusive sexual contact. He is not guilty on two other specifications of groping her and moving his hand to touch her genitals over her clothes, she said.

It is the first time that a military tribunal has rendered a verdict in a case involving an Air Force general. It is also the first time that sexual assault charges have led to criminal charges against someone so high up in the chain of command.

“Sometimes family members are the abusers,” Cooley’s sister-in-law said in a statement read by Ryan Guilds, her pro bono victims’ attorney, after the verdict. “The price of peace in my extended family was my silence. And that price was too high.

Cooley pleaded not guilty to the charge of abusive sexual contact for kissing the woman and allegedly touching her breasts and genitals over her clothes while they were alone in her car in Albuquerque, New Mexico. . She also claims he moved his hand to touch her groin through his pants.

She agreed to be publicly identified by her relationship to the accused, but not by name. Air Force Times does not publish the names of sexual assault victims without their permission to protect their privacy.

The woman and her husband – a civilian Air Force employee – along with Cooley’s mother and several other family friends and expert witnesses testified at the trial, which began Monday. Those the woman confided in after the alleged incident said she was unlike herself, even in shock, when discussing the alleged assault.

“She was incredibly overwhelmed, in tears, incredibly shaken,” the Reverend David Martin, an Episcopal deacon and close friend, testified Thursday.

The defense conceded that a kiss occurred, but characterized the trial as a set-up by the sister-in-law in revenge for a brief consensual date – a description the woman denies.

The trial attorney, in his closing arguments on Friday, argued that the defense took the evidence out of context and twisted the alleged victim’s words so the two-star general could avoid liability.

“[I] I kissed you uninvited…for my own selfish ego,” Cooley said in a 2018 written apology that the prosecution cited in court. “I am stunned by my deplorable actions.”

While the defendant told others he made a pass at his sister-in-law whom she had invited, his privately worded apology expressed regret for objectifying the woman and said he asked help.

Cooley’s sister-in-law called the contents of the general’s written apology “full of lies, shameful…garbage” in a September 2018 email. Defense attorney Maj. Shea Hoxie argued that the wife had refuted her own claims, as noted in Cooley’s apology, which his accusers forced him to say under threat to report the incident.

“They kissed, he fantasized about a relationship, and then they spent 16 months talking to each other,” Hoxie said in his closing arguments on Friday.

The prosecution said the woman believed Cooley’s attempted apology for the incident was dishonest.

Lt. Col. Matthew Neil, the prosecutor, countered that while the general would have been worried about the charges, that doesn’t make the apology a false confession. He also pushed back against suggestions that the wife’s struggle to remember certain details, or her delay in telling her husband, means she is lying.

“Why didn’t she scream for help?” Hindsight is 20/20,” Neil said in his closing arguments. “It’s easy to judge her for that, but no one knows how they’ll react.”

A voicemail she left for Cooley, telling him her brother knows “we kissed,” said nothing about consent, Neil said. The defense described the voicemail as evidence that the general hadn’t forced himself on her and that she wanted to fuck him.

Cooley entered active duty in 1990 and served in a variety of positions in military space, missile defense, research, and other positions.

As head of the AFRL, he managed a $2.5 billion science and technology portfolio led by the Air Force, as well as an additional $2.3 billion in research funded outside the Air Force. ‘army. He oversaw a staff of approximately 6,000.

Cooley was removed from his position in January 2020 as part of an Air Force Office of Special Investigations investigation and charged with violating Article 120 of the Code of Uniformed Military Justice, which prohibits sexual assaults.

Cases involving military personnel may be tried in either a military court or a civilian court, or both.

“This is a case where the military has jurisdiction because of the status of the defendant,” said Guilds, the plaintiff’s attorney. “That’s not to say the case couldn’t have been pursued on the civilian side, but the investigation began within the military.”

Cooley is now an assistant to Air Force Materiel Command Chief General Arnold Bunch, advocating for the service’s science and technology plans.

Bunch said in a written statement released after the verdict that he trusted the military justice system and respected the judge’s ruling. The service is committed to holding all Airmen accountable for conduct that does not meet Air Force standards, he said.

“The trial was impartial, fair and transparent,” the four-star said. “I thank everyone who has supported this process for their due diligence in pursuing justice and for doing everything possible to protect both the rights of the victim and the rights of the accused to a fair trial.”

Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for military sexual assault victims who worked on the case, told the Air Force Times on Saturday that the sentencing is a “momentous occasion,” even with a split verdict.

The result is a sign that general officers may also be held accountable, said Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor. The verdict itself is more important than the sentence, he added.

He doubts Cooley will be fired from the Air Force. Instead, he expects the two-star to be demoted to brigadier general and allowed to retire.

The defense team declined to comment on Saturday’s verdict.

In her statement given to reporters, Cooley’s accuser invoked the spirit of Army CPS. Vanessa Guillén, who told her mother she was sexually harassed before disappearing from Fort Hood, Texas in April 2020. Her remains were found two months later.

Guillén’s ordeal has sparked new calls to reform how the military handles sexual harassment and assault prevention, and how it prosecutes the accused.

“While this process has been incredibly invasive, not only for me, but also for my immediate family and closest friends, I know there are countless others who have been silenced forever, such as Vanessa,” said the victim in that case. “Staying quiet was just never an option.”

She thanked her family, friends and lawyer for believing and supporting her.

“To my amazing husband, thank you for addressing this horrible issue with me,” she said. “You are the best ally and advocate I could have asked for to take this journey with me.”

Cooley’s sister-in-law is expected to read a statement on Monday about the impact she had from the incident and the legal proceedings.

Guilds told reporters on Thursday that the woman’s feelings about the outcome and how to move forward are sure to change over time.

“It’s all part of a long journey, especially in such a difficult and complex case with such difficult family dynamics,” he said.

Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, The Frederick News-Post (Md.), The Washington Post, and others. .

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