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Air Force general convicted of sexual assault

  • Published
  • Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

The historic trial of an Air Force general officer in a military court ended with a conviction.

Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, was found guilty of abusive sexual contact when he forcibly kissed the victim in a car after an evening barbeque in Albuquerque, New Mexico on August 12, 2018.

Cooley stood in the small courtroom next to his civilian defense counsel and two uniformed Air Force attorneys, while Col. Christina M. Jimenez, the senior military judge in the case, announced her decision.

Cooley was accused of one charge of sexual assault under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with three specifications.  For the first specification, “kissing her on the lips and tongue, with an intent to gratify his sexual desire,” the accused was found guilty.

Jimenez found the general not guilty of the two other specifications, including causing her to touch him over his clothing, and his alleged touching of her breasts and genitals through her clothes.

The verdict marks the first court-martial trial and conviction of a general officer in the Air Force’s 75 year history.

Jimenez serves as Chief Circuit Military Judge with the Air Force Trial Judiciary, Western Circuit, at Travis Air Force Base, California.

The judge will now oversee the sentencing phase, which is expected to begin Monday, April 25. Presentation of evidence and aggravating factors will be offered by trial counsel and extenuating and mitigating factors will be presented by defense counsel. Frequently victim impact statements are made as well.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, an accused has the right to trial by court member jurors or by military judge alone.  At the opening of the proceedings, on April 18, Cooley selected the latter. 

During the trial, 10 witnesses testified, spanning from the victim, family members and friends to an expert in digital forensics.  Hundreds of electronic communication exchanges, including emails, voice mails and text messages, were introduced as evidence.  Cooley did not testify.

In lengthy testimony as the government’s first witness, the female victim, who knew Cooley well, described the assault and its impact as an “F5 tornado…ruining everything in its path.”

The victim did consent to allow news media representatives to disclose her relationship to Cooley without naming her.  By policy, the Air Force does not identify victims of sexual assault. 

The victim told the court Cooley asked for a ride after a backyard day-long social event where he had consumed alcohol.  During the short ride she said he told her that he fantasized about having sex with her. She alleged he pressed her up against the driver’s side window, forcibly kissed and groped her through her clothes.

Cooley denied the allegation, pleading not guilty. 

The Air Force case began 28 months ago when the victim and her spouse reported the assault to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, on December 26, 2019.

Cooley was previously commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory.  On January 15, 2020 Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., Air Force Materiel Command commander, relieved Cooley from command due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead, related to the alleged misconduct which was then under investigation.

Bunch appointed Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland, then Air Force Sustainment Center commander, to review the AFOSI report and make an initial disposition recommendation.  An Article 32 preliminary hearing, akin to a civilian grand jury proceeding, took place February 8, 2021 at Wright-Patterson.

Following a comprehensive review of the evidence, Bunch in April 2021 referred one UCMJ charge under Article 120, with three specifications of abusive sexual contact, to trial by general court-martial.

“I can assure you this was not a decision made lightly, but I believe it was the right decision,” Bunch said at the time.

In the meantime, Cooley has served as a special assistant to Bunch, with duties focused primarily on advancing AFMC’s Digital Campaign.

“As Convening Authority, I want to say thank you,” Bunch said when the trial concluded.   “Thank you to everyone who supported this process for their due diligence in the pursuit of justice, and for doing everything possible to protect both the victim’s rights and the rights of the accused to a fair trial.”

The trial publicly highlighted the military justice process and the handling of sexual assaults and senior leader misconduct, which has come under scrutiny by Congress with resulting legislative changes in how certain cases will be prosecuted in the future.

“This case clearly demonstrates the commitment of Air Force leaders to fully investigate the facts and hold Airmen of any rank accountable for their actions when they fail to uphold Air Force standards,” said Col. Eric Mejia, Staff Judge Advocate for Air Force Materiel Command.

The victim’s attorney, Ryan Guilds, said it takes amazing courage for survivors of sexual assault to come forward and report, face the trial process and difficult cross examination, but support is available.  

“It is very hard to be a survivor in a criminal case. That is one of many reasons you see so few of these cases go to court-martial,” Guilds said.

“At the end of the day, she wanted a process that was fair,” Guilds said about his client. “She is incredibly grateful for the prosecution team that worked on this case.”