Jury Finds Air Force General Not Guilty of Sexual Assault, But Lesser Charges Lead to Loss of Pay, Reprimand

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, 19th Air Force commander, speaks to the audience after receiving the unit guidon during the 19th Air Force change of command ceremony Aug. 19, 2022, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jonathan Mallard)

A two-star Air Force general has been found not guilty of sexually assaulting a subordinate officer by a court-martial jury in Texas and will ultimately avoid jail time after pleading guilty to lesser charges.

A panel of eight officers found Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart not guilty of sexual assault on Saturday, following nearly two weeks of court proceedings at Joint Base San Antonio. The former commander of the 19th Air Force was found guilty of other charges, including conduct unbecoming an officer and one specification of dereliction of duty; prior to the trial, he pleaded guilty to the other specification, as well as an adultery charge.

A military judge sentenced Stewart to a formal reprimand, restriction to Joint Base San Antonio for two months and forfeiture of $10,000 worth of pay every month for six months, the base said in a press release. It is possible that Stewart could also be reduced in rank under the Air Force secretary's authority in the future due to the convictions and reprimand now on his record.

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"It's hard to think about life outside the service," Stewart told the judge during sentencing, according to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. "I am so much more than this. I apologize for letting the Air Force down."

The sentence was relatively light compared to the range of punishments he had faced. If Stewart had been found guilty of all charges, the two-star general would have been dismissed from the service, forced to forfeit all pay and could have been jailed for 63 years. Just under the charges he pleaded guilty to, he could have faced a possible two and a half years in jail.

    It wasn't easy seating a jury panel, which had to consist of officers of equal or higher rank than Stewart. Ultimately, eight jurors -- six men and two women -- were seated to judge Stewart's fate, Stars and Stripes reported. A unanimous verdict is not necessary in a court-martial proceeding.

    "During the trial, 12 witnesses testified, spanning from the victim, airmen, family members and friends to experts in digital forensics," the base said in a news release. "Stewart has the right to appeal, if an automatic appeal is not triggered."

    Sherilyn Bunn, Stewart's senior defense counsel, praised the panel for finding the two-star general not guilty of sexual assault.

    "From the beginning, Maj. Gen. Stewart maintained his innocence, confident that the truth would emerge," Bunn said. "This case has highlighted the need for a careful and respectful approach to allegations of sexual assault."

    Stewart's case marked the first time an Air Force general has faced a jury over an alleged sexual crime.

    In 2022, former Maj. Gen. William Cooley, previously the head of the Air Force Research Laboratory, was the first Air Force general to be tried for sexual crimes by a court-martial, but he chose a bench trial, in which a judge renders a verdict instead of a jury.

    Cooley was ultimately convicted of abusive sexual contact. In a punishment similar to Stewart's, he received a reprimand letter and forfeited pay. Cooley was later demoted to colonel.

    Editor's note: This story was updated to correct Cooley's former position.

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