Two-Star Air Force General Cleared in Landmark Court-Martial Sexual Assault Case, Guilty of Other Charges

Military court-martial aftermath portrait.

Two-Star Air Force General Acquitted in Historic Court-Martial Sexual Assault Case

In a landmark decision, a panel of senior generals has acquitted Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, a prominent two-star Air Force general, of sexual assault in an unprecedented court-martial at Fort Sam Houston. However, Stewart was found guilty on other charges, including dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming of an officer.

The outcome of the trial has entered the annals of military history as the first time an Air Force general has been subjected to a sexual assault jury court-martial. The jury, comprising solely of three-star generals, found him guilty on the secondary charges.

Despite escaping sexual assault conviction, the ruling was not without repercussions. Stewart was penalized with a reprimand, confinement to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Air Force base for two months, and a forfeiture of $60,000 in pay spread over six months. Presiding judge Col. Matthew Stoffel reproached Stewart, remarking on his disappointment in the senior officer’s conduct.

Details of the Case

The charges against Stewart originally could have attracted a jail term of up to 60 years. Before the trial commenced, he pleaded guilty to two lesser charges – dereliction of duty under Article 92 and extramarital sexual conduct under Article 134 – indicating that he maintained the relationship with the victim was consensual.

Throughout the week-long trial, testimonies were heard from eleven witnesses including the alleged victim, her husband, and several other military officers. Stewart opted not to testify.

Text messages between Stewart and the victim were presented as evidence, illuminating the dynamics of their relationship and the alleged assault. The messages, sent during a conference in Denver in March 2023, were just a month in advance of their sexual encounter at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma. In the messages, Stewart invited the victim to stay in his room, an invitation that the victim conceded made her uncomfortable.

The Defense and Prosecution

The prosecution, led by Col. Naomi Dennis, slammed the trial as a “full-scale victim blaming,” pointing out that the victim was a reputable pilot, not an opportunist. Meanwhile, the defense, represented by Sherry Bunn, countered by accusing the victim of being a “party girl” who benefited from her decisions.

Equipping the jury with their discernment, Bunn noted, “This is either a case of sexual assault or a consensual sexual encounter. You have to get this right.”

In the end, despite the woman’s testimony of feeling compelled to submit due to Stewart’s rank and power, the defense was successful in planting enough doubt to result in an acquittal on the sexual assault charge.

Implications on Air Force Morale

This case has highlighted the challenges faced by sexual assault victims in the military and underscored the bitter power dynamics that often confound justice. The verdict is certain to spark conversations over military conduct, sexual harassment, and the efficacy of the military justice system.

Two-Star Air Force General Cleared in Landmark Court-Martial Sexual Assault Case, Guilty of Other Charges

Author: HERE Irmo

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