Maj. Gen. William Cooley speaks in April 2019 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Maj. Gen. William Cooley speaks in April 2019 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (Wesley Farnsworth/U.S. Air Force)

(Tribune News Service) — After an Air Force judge handed down her sentence Tuesday, the former commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has a felony conviction on his record and faces a nearly $55,000 forfeiture of pay as well as a reprimand that may impact his career and retirement.

An Air Force judge sentenced Maj. Gen. William Cooley to a reprimand and ordered that he forfeit $10,910 of monthly pay for five months.

Cooley, 56, a two-star general and a former commander of AFRL, was found guilty last week of one specification of abusive sexual contact against his brother's wife.

After the sentence Tuesday morning at 88th Air Base Wing headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Cooley was spotted hugging a man in Air Force uniform outside the court in apparent relief. There was no opportunity to seek comment from him.

Cooley's civilian attorney, Dan Conway, said Cooley is "very thankful for the judge's compassion here. It's been a very trying time for the better part of the last four years."

Conway called the sentence "very significant," and he said a letter of reprimand may impact the rank at which Cooley will be permitted to retire, if he chooses to retire. But Conway also said that it's Cooley's hope that he might continue serving in the Air Force and retire on his own terms.

There are plans to appeal, Conway also said. He said Cooley has been "remorseful," but added: "At the same time, he has maintained his innocence."

As of now, Cooley retains the rank of major general. Military prosecutor Lt. Col. Matthew Neil believed Gen. Arnold Bunch, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, may write a letter of reprimand against Cooley or direct someone to write that letter.

Bunch fired Cooley from his AFRL job in January 2020 after an Air Force investigation.

The financial penalty is nearly $55,000 total. Cooley's monthly pay is $15,966. Conway declined to answer questions about Cooley's financial situation.

"I think the military judge here did send a message that she was in fact taking this seriously," Conway said. "It certainly could have an impact on his retirement if he were to retire."

Conway said Cooley's intent now is to repair relationships with his family and colleagues in the Air Force.

Cooley pleaded not guilty and in last year's Article 32 hearing read a letter in open court saying the encounter with his sister-in-law was "consensual."

Ryan Guilds, the personal attorney for the accuser in the case, said his reaction is the same as his client's: They each remain "deeply appreciative of all the hard work" military prosecutors invested in this case.

He also said: "This is not a case about the sentence." What matters most about the trial and its outcome from their perspective was the courage of Cooley's sister-in-law in standing up to the man who committed abusive sexual contact against her, he said.

"It doesn't change the bravery that the victim showed in coming forward," Guilds said Tuesday.

Historic verdict issued Saturday

Earlier, the verdict — delivered Saturday at Wright-Patterson — marked the first court-martial trial and conviction of a general officer in the Air Force's 75-year history.

"This is an historic court-martial," Neil said Tuesday in his first remarks to the press.

He said the message of the case's outcome is: "The Air Force takes seriously allegations of sexual assault or sexual offenses that are committed. Those are investigated, and where appropriate, offenders are held accountable, without fear or favor regarding someone's rank or status."

Military prosecutors had sought as a first choice Cooley's dismissal from the Air Force, then alternatively, confinement. Defense counsel Conway told Air Force Judge Col. Christina Jimenez Monday that a letter of reprimand would be appropriate.

The allegations stemmed from an encounter in August 2018, when Cooley's sister-in-law gave him a ride to his parents' house after a family backyard barbeque in New Mexico.

The charge had three specifications involving how the two-star general was reported to have touched her — 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 the Air Force.

After five days of a trial at Wright-Patterson, the judge found Cooley guilty of the first specification — "kissing her on the lips and tongue, with an intent to gratify his sexual desire" — while acquitting him of the latter two.

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