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A jury of generals will determine the fate of an Air Force two-star officer charged with sexual assault

 A guard stands at a gate to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
Eric Gay
/
AP
A guard stands at a gate to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Tuesday morning marked the beginning of jury selection in the case of alleged sexual assault by Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart.

The former commander of the 19th Air Force was accused of sexually assaulting a female subordinate officer. This case marked the second time in history that a general officer was court-martialed over assault accusations.

The alleged assault took place in April 2023 near Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Stewart's attorneys said the encounter was consensual. The female officer said she felt she needed to submit because of his rank and the power he held in their military command.

Stewart's request to retire after the charges came to light was denied. In turn, he opted for a jury of his peers rather than a military judge.

Stewart's case is being prosecuted after his commanding officer, Lt. Gen. Brian S. Robinson, ordered Stewart to be tried under the court-martial.

The unique jury selection process required that jurors hold equal rank and time in grade to Stewart or higher rank and time than Stewart. That narrowed down the population of potential jurors to two-star, three-star, and four-star commanders.

Thirteen general grade officers were called to Fort Sam Houston to be selected as panelists for the trial. Three of the potential jurors are women, two were Black, and the rest were white men, according to Air Force Capt. Scarlett Trujillo, a spokesperson.

Wednesday concluded with seven of the eight needed panelists chosen. The remaining six were dismissed, causing a halt on the selection. Only six of the eight are needed to decide a guilty verdict.

The previous court-martial of an Air Force two-star general for sexual assault was in 2022. Former Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley avoided jail time, was stripped of his rank and retired as a colonel. He opted for a military judge and decided against a jury trial.

Stewart faced two counts of sexual assault under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 120; two counts of dereliction of duty under Article 92; one count of conduct unbecoming of an officer under Article 133; and one count of extramarital sexual conduct under Article 134.

Opening statements were scheduled for Monday but they may be delayed because of the complication in the juror selection process.

The Military Desk at Texas Public Radio is made possible in part by North Park Lincoln and Rise Recovery.

Gabriella Alcorta-Solorio is a reporter for Texas Public Radio. She recently graduated from Texas State University with a major in journalism, minoring in women’s studies. She has previously worked as a photojournalist with The Ranger and has reported on Alzheimer’s and dementia using public health data. She plans to focus her career in journalism on women’s rights and human rights.