WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Lawyers for the prosecution and defense rested their cases here Thursday after several witnesses testified in rapid succession, setting the stage to wind down the first full court-martial of an Air Force general.
Closing arguments in the sexual assault case are set to begin Friday morning. The military judge, Col. Christina Jimenez, could issue a verdict and sentence that same day.
After prosecutors ended their own questioning, lawyers for Maj. Gen. Bill Cooley, the former Air Force Research Laboratory commander accused of forcibly kissing and groping his sister-in-law in 2018, chose not to call anyone to testify on behalf of the defense.
The prosecution and defense sought to bring up many of the same people, so Cooley’s team had already interrogated those it wanted to, defense lawyer Dan Conway told reporters. Cooley did not take the stand himself.
“Most of what we hoped to achieve in this case, we were able to achieve on cross-examination,” Conway said. “We felt very good about where we’re at, and we’re prepared to argue to the military judge.”
Cooley pleaded not guilty to abusive sexual contact, with three specifications, for allegedly kissing the woman and touching her breast and genitals while alone in her car in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She also claims he moved her hand to touch his groin through his pants.
The defense acknowledges the incident happened, but has characterized the lawsuit as a setup by the plaintiff to get revenge for a brief, consensual tryst — a description the woman denies.
She agreed to be publicly identified by her relationship to the defendant, but not by name. Air Force Times does not publish the names of alleged sexual assault victims without their permission to protect their privacy.
Eight relatives, family friends and experts — including the general’s elderly mother Eleanor Cooley and the daughter of his accuser — provided their perspectives to the court throughout the trial’s fourth day.
Prosecutors also called William McCoy and Gerad Lee, special agents who worked on Cooley’s case for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations; family friends David Hardy, a former associate deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space, and his husband, Rev. David Martin, an Episcopal deacon; Father Christopher McLaren, rector at the plaintiff’s church; and Josiah Roloff, who runs his own digital forensics firm and verified whose electronics and accounts were used later on to discuss matters.
The plaintiff was unlike herself, even “shell-shocked,” when discussing the alleged assault with close friends and the rector in the weeks that followed, they said.
“She was incredibly upset, teary, incredibly shaken,” Martin said of the woman’s demeanor when she described her version of events a week or two later.
Martin and Hardy dined with Cooley, the plaintiff, her husband and the woman’s daughter on the night in question, but left before the incident.
McLaren noted that Cooley’s sister-in-law seemed “agitated” and “torn up” during their discussion of the situation, in contrast with her typical happy, lively personality.
“I could tell that something deeply wrong had happened” as she told him of a “violent” physical attack, McLaren said.
Eleanor Cooley testified that she didn’t hear about any purported misconduct until about a month after it happened, when her son told her he had taken a pass at his brother’s wife.
She recalled the general told her of an incident of harassment and “cussing.”
Later, the alleged victim and her husband emailed Eleanor what they believe is a more complete accounting of the night. The couple accuses the general of downplaying his actions and avoiding responsibility.
“I thought it was a little over the top [compared to] what Bill would have done,” Eleanor said of the emailed allegations.
The trial by judge marks the Air Force’s first time moving through court-martial proceedings against a general, as well as the first time sexual assault charges have led to criminal prosecution for someone so high up in the chain of command.
He entered active duty service in 1990 and has worked in a variety of military space, missile defense, research and other positions.
As the head of AFRL, he managed a $2.5 billion Air Force-led science and technology portfolio plus another $2.3 billion in research funded outside the military. He oversaw a workforce of around 6,000 people.
Cooley was removed from that job in January 2020 amid an OSI inquiry and charged with violating Article 120 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, which forbids sexual assault. He now serves as an assistant to Air Force Materiel Command boss Gen. Arnold Bunch, advocating for the service’s science and technology plans.
He could face up to 21 years behind bars — seven years for each specification of the sexual assault charge against him. Cooley could also lose his pay alongside dismissal from the Air Force.
A guilty verdict could land him in the national sex offender database as well. There is no minimum sentence and he may avoid punishment altogether.
“We went judge alone because we had complete confidence in this judge’s ability to call balls and strikes, and I think she’s shown that throughout this trial. She’s been completely objective,” Conway said.
Cooley’s lawyer said they would appeal to Bunch, who can decide on clemency matters, to lighten the two-star’s sentence if he is convicted.
Ryan Guilds, a pro bono victim’s counsel for Cooley’s sister-in-law, said there’s been some discussion of whether she would try again to make amends if the officer is acquitted.
“At the end of the day, the goal here is not about punishment for her,” Guilds told reporters. “The goal here is to say, ‘Enough,’ and to stand up and say, ‘If this happened to me, it could have happened to someone else, and I need to be the person to stop it from happening in the future.’”
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as 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.