Maj. Gen. Cooley’s defense rests without calling any witnesses in court-martial

Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, ex-commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, delivers remarks during the McCook Field Centennial ceremony in Dayton on Oct. 6, 2017.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth)

Combined ShapeCaption
Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, ex-commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, delivers remarks during the McCook Field Centennial ceremony in Dayton on Oct. 6, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth)

Former AFRL commander’s mother took stand in fourth day of trial.

Both sides in the court-martial of Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley rested their case Thursday, with the defense not calling witnesses at all.

“We felt like we were able to accomplish everything we wanted to accomplish on cross-examination” of government witnesses, Dan Conway, Cooley’s civilian attorney, said after court recessed.

Conway said a portion of a phone voice mail in which Cooley’s sister-in-law — who has accused the two-star general of abusive sexual contact — told Cooley “We kissed” was important to the defense’s argument that the encounter between the two was consensual.

Her “own words are of great significance, great weight in this case,” Conway said.

Cooley, former commander of Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), is accused of abusive sexual contact in an encounter with his sister-in-law, inside a Jeep after she gave him an evening ride after a family barbecue, in a New Mexico off-duty incident.

The complainant in the case, the wife of Cooley’s brother, is a civilian woman who is not a Department of Defense employee. Cooley’s brother works for AFRL in New Mexico. The Dayton Daily News does not identify victims of sexual crimes.

The charge of abusive sexual contact has three specifications involving how the two-star general is alleged to have touched the complainant — forcing his tongue in her mouth, forcing her hand to his genitals and pushing his hand between her legs and cupping her breast, according to an Air Force charge sheet.

Thursday was a day that featured eight witnesses for the government, including Cooley’s mother, who testified that her son told her in 2018 that he had “made a pass” at his sister-in-law.

“That’s what I recall,” testified the mother, Eleanor Cooley, adding later in her time on the witness stand: “He said there was some cussing, and he had made a pass at” her.

The defense team declined to question Cooley’s mother, and also declined to question Cooley’s niece — the daughter of his sister-in-law — after she was briefly questioned by government attorneys.

Also Thursday, David Hardy, a former associate undersecretary of the Air Force, testified that the sister-in-law told him that after a car ride in August 2018, Cooley “had attempted to kiss her, pushed her against the door of a car and she had to forcefully push him away.”

“She appeared to be upset,” Hardy said of her demeanor when she recalled the encounter at a Sunday brunch two weeks after the events in question.

Combined ShapeCaption
David Hardy, former associate undersecretary of the Air Force. Air Force photo

David Hardy, former associate undersecretary of the Air Force. Air Force photo

Combined ShapeCaption
David Hardy, former associate undersecretary of the Air Force. Air Force photo

“Repeating a lie doesn’t make it any more true,” Maj. Shea Hoxie, an Air Force attorney for Cooley, told the military judge when he objected to Hardy testifying to what Cooley’s sister-in-law told him.

The judge overruled the objection.

David Martin, Hardy’s husband, was present at the same brunch and offered similar testimony.

“She was incredibly upset, teary, incredibly shaken, I would say shell-shocked,” Martin said.

This is the first court-martial of an Air Force general officer to reach trial.

“The message to (sexual assault) survivors is, if you stand up, you can be supported,” Ryan Guilds, an attorney for the sister-in-law, said after court recessed Thursday.

But he also said that “message” is incomplete at this point without a verdict in this case.

Guilds said the sister-in-law showed courage in coming forward. “She has always been motivated by a desire to be a role model for herself, for women and men who are victims of assault, who face an unfair power imbalance.”

Closing arguments set for Friday

A jury has not been empaneled in the case. If convicted by the judge, an Air Force colonel, Cooley faces dismissal from the service, loss of rank, pay and benefits and up to 21 years of confinement.

The first two days of testimony focused on two key witnesses, Cooley’s brother and sister-in-law. Thursday’s pace was faster, with six witnesses testifying before noon. By day’s end, a digital forensics expert also testified, saying he had found evidence that Cooley had deleted emails that he had sent to his brother and sister-in-law.

Much of this morning was consumed with arguments over whether to admit as evidence recordings of Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) interviews with Cooley’s brother and sister-in-law.

Closing arguments in the case are set for Friday morning.

About the Author