WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — The sister-in-law of Maj. Gen. Bill Cooley, who accused the two-star general of sexually assaulting her in 2018, spoke on day two of his military trial here Tuesday.
The plaintiff testified that the alleged incident at her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico nearly four years ago was a frightening “out of body” experience that fractured her personal life.
“I was kind of shocked at that point,” she said. “He had never done anything like this before.”
She agreed to be publicly identified by her relationship with Cooley, but not by name, for the first time on Tuesday. Air Force Times does not publish the names of alleged sexual assault victims without their permission to protect their privacy.
Prosecutors in the Air Force’s first court-martial of a general officer portrayed Cooley as an egomaniac who, when rejected by a woman he had long coveted, now downplays an attempt by the attack.
The two-star general’s defense team alleges the pair shared a consensual kiss which his sister-in-law exaggerated and described as an unreliable storyteller.
Cooley at the time commanded the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio; his sister-in-law is a civilian.
“I thought Bill and I were finally friends” after an “almost non-existent” relationship during their three decades of connection, the plaintiff testified at trial. Cooley had become kinder and more caring, complimenting her home and career when they saw each other on occasion.
He also became more affectionate physically, she said, going from brief hugs to full hugs. Certain interactions pissed her off: Cooley would sometimes kiss the top of her head and smell her hair during a hug, which made her so uncomfortable that she told her husband about it.
Cooley allegedly kissed and fondled the woman without her consent in August 2018 after a barbecue at her house. He was in the Albuquerque area working at Kirtland Air Force Base and arrived early to spend the weekend with family and friends.
On August 12, 2018, Cooley stayed late after the barbecue to drink bourbon with others around a fire. He had been spending time with his family in their backyard pool, munching on fries and salsa and soaking up the summer sun.
The general had already moved his luggage from his sister-in-law’s house to stay with his parents a few blocks away, but then decided to return to the first house. He asked her to take a walk down the street to collect her things; she obliged.
Once alone together in the car, Cooley allegedly took the woman’s hand as she was on the gear shift. He told her he had fantasized about having sex with her for years, including while they were in the pool over the weekend, according to the prosecution.
“Am I the only one feeling this sexual tension? Cooley requested, according to Major Abbigayle Hunter, a plaintiff’s uniformed attorney.
“I am completely, completely stunned. I am speechless,” the sister-in-law said of her reaction.
She hesitated, telling Cooley that she was happy with her life as it was. If he was alone with his wife, she said, he would have to approach it another way.
As he drove to his parents’ house to collect his luggage, his sister-in-law stayed in the car, shaking and trying to collect her thoughts, she said, “It’s not OK.” She tried unsuccessfully to find the audio recording feature on her phone when he returned.
The complainant said she decided not to leave while Cooley was inside because she felt sorry for him and was trying not to escalate the situation. Even so, she told defense attorney Dan Conway during cross-examination that she no longer wanted to be alone with the general or converse with him.
He returned to the car and they drove home. She tried to change the subject to defuse the situation, according to the prosecution. The defense says they wanted to pressure Cooley about her interactions with a high school friend who had recently contacted her.
On the short drive home, Cooley reportedly took her sister-in-law’s hand and placed it on her groin, although the woman said she could not remember if it happened while moving or parking at her place. She started to panic.
The woman parked her car in the garage, at which point Cooley allegedly pinned her against the inside of the driver’s side door, kissed her, and attempted to touch her genitals through her underwear.
“I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I thought, ‘This is how rape happens,'” she said.
She managed to fend him off and wedged her arm between them to fend off another advance. Her husband came to the car and asked if everything was okay, and the couple indicated that they were having a conversation. The woman said she then felt safe enough to leave the garage and enter her bedroom.
The complainant did not see her brother-in-law again until they were together in the kitchen before work the next morning. The woman was “in shock” over the events of the previous night, she said, and wanted to keep things polite between them as she processed her feelings.
Within two days, the woman told her husband what had happened with his brother.
“He was taking a bite of food and…dropped the fork,” she said of her husband.
Major Lindsey North, one of Cooley’s defense attorneys, said his accuser’s letter and three voicemails prove the interaction was consensual.
The defense says Cooley’s sister-in-law had flirted with him earlier that evening and was reluctant to tell her husband about the situation to avoid his wrath. Conway also sought to show that Cooley’s brother and his wife wanted to publicly humiliate the general.
Cooley’s sister-in-law vehemently denied this characterization of events. The idea that it was consensual is “just plain wrong,” she said.
“I respected my brother-in-law’s wishes for a ride. I trusted my brother-in-law whom I had known for 30 years. … I didn’t initiate anything,” she said.
The woman did not know what to do in the weeks following the alleged incident. She didn’t want to further damage an already difficult family situation, but decided to try to make amends and move forward in a healthy way, she said.
She wrote him a note and considered giving it to him, but instead left him a voicemail with what she had written, saying she thought he barely tolerated her and that she didn’t want to. not that their future interactions are awkward.
She compared her shock to a scene from the 2003 romantic comedy “Love Actually,” when Juliet (Kiera Knightley) realizes her husband’s best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is in love with her.
As in the film, the defense says the surprise turned out to be pleasant. Prosecutors argue otherwise.
” I am flattered. Stunned, but flattered,” the plaintiff said in a voicemail broadcast to the court. She told Cooley that he was a good person and she hoped he could decide what was best for him.
The woman said on Tuesday that she regretted framing their interaction as “we kissed,” rather than a one-sided action, in a voicemail telling Cooley that she had explained the situation to her husband.
“There is no playbook” for making amends in a scenario like this, the plaintiff said.
Cooley, her accuser and her husband went to therapy together. They asked him for honesty, a sincere apology and steps to demonstrate that he would right his wrongs, including reimbursement of the consultation fees.
But the prosecution said things went downhill when Cooley’s brother and sister-in-law felt the two-star was not admitting his actions in discussions with others, including his parents. The woman had told her husband she would not report the incident to avoid causing further heartache, but the couple later felt they had no choice but to inform the authorities.
Now the plaintiff’s team is trying to use Cooley’s own words to prove their case.
“I raped you both,” he said, according to Hunter, the plaintiff’s attorney. “I’m so sorry.”
Cooley “conjured up in his selfish mind a scenario” in which he did what he wanted and got away with it, the prosecution alleges. He called himself “selfish and out of control” and promised it wouldn’t happen again.
He told his family he would seek counseling for women’s objectification issues and pay for “legitimate” damages. He sent nearly $1,000 to his brother and sister-in-law, but warned he would report them for blackmail if they demanded further restitution.
Cooley’s brother grew concerned that the disagreement could affect his job, according to a letter presented to the court.
“Bill Cooley has done me and my wife real harm, and I fear him.”
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, The Frederick News-Post (Md.), The Washington Post, and others. .