2-Star Air Force General Pleads Guilty to Unprofessional Relationship, Adultery as Sexual Assault Trial Begins

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, 19th Air Force commander, observes an MQ-9 Reaper student pilot and sensor operator in a ground control station at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, Sep. 29, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nicholas Paczkowski)

An Air Force two-star general pleaded guilty to two lesser charges as his court-martial for sexual assault started Monday in Texas, after trial counsel worked through the weekend to sit a panel of eight high-ranking officers for his jury.

Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, the former commander of the 19th Air Force at Joint Base San Antonio, pleaded guilty to pursuing an unprofessional relationship with a subordinate and adultery. The two-star general still faces charges of sexual assault, dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Stewart has had a rocky start to his legal proceedings. Jury selection, which was supposed to begin June 17, was delayed a day due to administrative proceedings. But the process of selecting a qualified panel of eight generals of the same or higher rank dragged into the weekend.

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The selection of the general officers for the jury was a difficult task rarely seen in an Air Force court-martial. With the service's limited pool of higher-ranking officers, the trial counsel originally managed to pull together a total of 13 generals, but still could not fill a panel by the middle of last week.

Sherilyn Bunn, Stewart's senior defense counsel, told Military.com in an emailed statement last week that it was frustrating that Air Education and Training Command was not better prepared to fill a jury panel in a timely manner.

    "It's shameful how their lack of foresight and effective planning wasted nearly the entire first week of these proceedings," Bunn said. "We will now conduct voir dire through the weekend to attempt to seat this panel in an effort for Maj. Gen. Stewart to defend himself against these charges -- something we should have been doing already."

    A full panel of eight generals was eventually seated by Saturday, after 18 officers were called in total and 10 were ultimately dismissed, according to Air Education and Training Command spokespeople. Stewart's legal team did not provide comment Monday morning after the jury panel was filled and after he entered his guilty pleas.

    Stewart was removed from his role as the commander of the 19th Air Force in May 2023. A redacted charge sheet later revealed he is alleged to have committed a sex act on a woman without her consent near Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma roughly a month prior to his dismissal.

    He was also charged with conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly asking someone to spend the night with him in his hotel room sometime in March 2023 while in Colorado, as well as adultery. Other charges include dereliction of duty for allegedly pursuing relations with a subordinate and allegedly controlling an aircraft within 12 hours of drinking alcohol.

    Stewart's case marks the first time an Air Force general officer has faced a jury in a court-martial related to sexual crimes.

    In 2022, then-Maj. Gen. William Cooley -- formerly the head of the Air Force Research Laboratory -- was the first Air Force officer to face a court-martial but was tried by a judge, not a jury of fellow officers. He was convicted of abusive sexual contact, for which he received a letter or reprimand; was ordered to forfeit some pay; and later was demoted to colonel.

    Related: Court-Martial Held in Texas for Air Force General Accused of Sexual Assault

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