Air Force General Convicted in Historic Court-Martial Avoids Jail Time

Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley delivers remarks
Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, delivers remarks during the McCook Field Centennial ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, Oct. 6, 2017. (Wesley Farnsworth/U.S. Air Force)

Editor's Note: This story includes details of an alleged sexual assault.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Maj. Gen. William Cooley, the first Air Force general ever convicted in a court-martial, will not serve jail time.

Instead, military judge Col. Christina Jimenez sentenced Cooley, who was convicted Saturday of abusive sexual contact, to forfeit $10,910 of pay for five months and a letter of reprimand from the court-martial convening authority, Air Force Materiel Command chief Gen. Arnold Bunch.

Cooley faced a maximum sentence of seven years of confinement, separation and loss of pay and benefits.

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Prosecutors requested he be dismissed from the service, or if not dismissed, sentenced to "months" of confinement. A dismissal for a commissioned officer is the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge for enlisted personnel.

Cooley's defense team, meanwhile, argued a letter of reprimand -- which is often a career ender but still allows for retirement benefits -- would be sufficient punishment.

"Maj. Gen. Cooley is very thankful for the judge's compassion here," his civilian lawyer, Daniel Conway, told reporters after the sentence was delivered. "The imposition of a letter of reprimand and significant financial penalties is actually a very significant sentence. And so I think the military judge here did send a message that she was in fact taking this seriously."

Cooley's attorneys had also sought to limit the maximum sentence he could receive to six months, arguing the offense Cooley was convicted of is now considered the equivalent of a misdemeanor assault under a law that took effect months after the August 2018 incident. But Jimenez said she had to consider the maximum sentence under the law as it existed when the crime was committed.

Conway said Cooley plans to appeal.

"Maj. Gen. Cooley all along has been remorseful for the events that happened, but at the same time, he's maintained his innocence in terms of the narrative that was put forward," Conway said.

On Saturday, Jimenez found Cooley guilty of forcibly kissing his sister-in-law after a family barbecue. He was found not guilty of two additional counts that covered allegations he also groped his sister-in-law. The case was decided by a judge, rather than a jury, at Cooley's request.

The sister-in-law testified that, during a brief car ride after the party, Cooley tried to pull her hand toward his crotch and that, when they were back in her garage, he pinned her against the car window, kissed her, put his hand on her breast and then moved his hand to between her legs. does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent, and the sister-in-law's lawyer has requested she be identified only by her relationship to Cooley.

Cooley's defense team maintains the only thing that happened in the car was a consensual kiss.

Cooley did not testify in his own defense during his trial. But on Monday during his sentencing hearing, he read a statement where he started by "apologizing sincerely and genuinely" to his sister-in-law and other family members "who have been hurt" by his actions.

"I can honestly say I have come out a better human being than I was in 2018," Cooley added. "I will work for the rest of my life to be a better person than the one who was portrayed in this trial."

He pleaded with the judge not to punish his wife for his mistakes by stripping him of his retirement benefits, saying he "pray[s] to god she will not be left with nothing."

The defense also submitted to Jimenez several written statements from character witnesses that Conway characterized during the hearing as demonstrating Cooley's "absolutely extraordinary" 32 years of service in the Air Force. Conway told Jimenez on Saturday the defense could call "a four-star and two three-stars" as witnesses for the sentencing hearing, but it was not clear Monday who had submitted the written statements. was not able to immediately review the statements.

The sister-in-law also read her own statement Monday in which she detailed how the incident has affected her life in the four years since, saying Cooley "robbed me of my safety" and that his "disgusting actions unmoored me."

"The cost to remain a member of our extended family was silence, secrecy and lies, all to protect him and his military position above all costs," she said. "I trusted Bill, and he took that trust and exploited it, twisted it beyond recognition, marginalized me to others that I care about, lied to family members to cover the truth, and while I hoped and prayed for true contrition and lasting remorse, I don't feel I ever received that. I became despondent with this reality."

Ryan Guilds, the sister-in-law's lawyer, told reporters that prosecutors conferred with her on their recommended sentence as required by law, though he would not disclose her preferred sentence.

"She will continue to have the pains of this for the rest of her life, and no sentence is going to eliminate that," Guilds said. "No sentence is going to replace what happened. No sentence is going to overcome the pain that she and her family have endured and, candidly, the many other people connected with this case have endured."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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