WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — The first Air Force general to face a military trial will not testify in his own defense against sexual assault charges as his court-martial here prepares to wrap up.
The legal team for Maj. Gen. William Cooley, who has been accused of sexual assault by his sister-in-law, rested its case Thursday without calling any witnesses to the stand, including Cooley. In remarks to reporters, Cooley’s civilian lawyer pushed back on the notion that not calling him to testify helps the prosecution.
“I think it’s mistaken, this idea that the accused not testifying signals some sort of weakness. … You might be sitting there thinking that an innocent man would want to shout it from the mountaintops,” said Daniel Conway of Daniel Conway & Associates. “In our system of justice, we give you the right to remain silent, and I think that just about every judge in America is going to respect that right. So, we’re not concerned about that at all.”
Cooley’s sister-in-law alleges that, during a brief car ride after a family barbecue in August 2018, he attempted to put her hand over his crotch, and that once they got back to her garage, he pinned her against the car window, forcibly kissed her, put his hand on her breast and then moved his hand to between her legs.
Cooley’s defense lawyers maintain the only thing that happened was a consensual kiss.
Military.com does not name alleged 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.
The trial is scheduled to continue Friday with closing arguments. The case will then go to the judge for a verdict. The case is being decided by a judge rather than a jury at Cooley’s request.
Prosecutors concluded their case Thursday by calling other attendees of the barbecue, including Cooley’s mother and his niece, as well as a pair of close friends of the sister-in-law and her husband. They also called the sister-in-law’s priest, two Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents who interviewed her and her husband as part of the investigation into Cooley, and a digital forensics expert.
The friends and the priest both testified that she told them about the alleged incident a couple of weeks later. The friends, former Air Force official David Hardy and his husband David Martin, said that as she talked, she appeared “traumatized” and “shell-shocked.” The priest, Father Christopher McLaren, described her as “agitated and torn up by the whole thing.”
Meanwhile, Cooley’s mother, Eleanor, said he told her about a month after the alleged incident that he “made a pass” at his sister-in-law.
Earlier in the week, the sister-in-law detailed her allegations against Cooley, while his brother testified about the shock he felt after his wife told him about the alleged incident.
Cooley’s defense has argued the sister-in-law changed her story over time and fabricated the allegations because she feared her husband’s reaction to knowing she and Cooley kissed and had concerns about her husband’s career with the Air Force.
— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.