Air Force major pleads not guilty to sex charges at Nellis court-martial

Maj. Charles L. Cox Jr. pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault and abuse of an enlisted man in a court-martial proceeding Tuesday at Nellis Air Force Base.

Cox’s defense counsel, Capt. Trenton Norman, entered the pleas for Cox, a nurse in the 99th Medical Operations Squadron at Nellis, as they stood in blue uniforms before Lt. Col. Christopher Schumann, the military judge hearing the case.

Cox is accused of touching the buttocks and anus of an airman first class “with intent to arouse or gratify his own sexual desire” while the man was asleep on Aug. 4, 2012.

Cox also pleaded not guilty to assault consummated by a battery for unlawfully touching the airman’s buttocks, anus and back with his hand.

In addition, he pleaded not guilty to conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman for being drunk and disorderly on Aug. 3, 2012, in the presence of enlisted airmen and making sexual comments toward enlisted women in the Air Force.

If Cox is convicted for abusive sexual contact, he could be dismissed from duty or, in essence, dishonorably discharged, confined for seven years and required to forfeit all pay and allowances.

Before Tuesday’s proceeding, Cox offered to resign his Air Force commission to avoid a trial, but the written request was rejected by the secretary of the Air Force.

The crimes were said to have taken place “at or near Las Vegas,” according to the charge sheet.

Three colonels and eight lieutenant colonels were detailed as court members to act as a military jury.

The trial counsel, or prosecutors, with the defense team led by Maj. Jeremy McKissack quizzed the court members on their knowledge of the case and witnesses and their exposure to public comments regarding sexual offenses including those from President Barack Obama, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Col. Barry Cornish, commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis.

The defense raised several motions on evidentiary issues, but most were denied by Schumann. The judge deferred ruling on whether there was unlawful command influence that could affect the trial.

The court-martial is expected to continue for a few days.

The Cox case is rare because there have been no sexual assault convictions of Nellis personnel in at least five years.

In May, as Judge Advocate General officers prepared for the Cox case, top Air Force brass called the surge in military sexual assault cases a crisis traced to a lack of respect for women.

The Pentagon reported an epidemic of sex assaults in the military in which the Air Force saw a 33 percent increase in reported cases, from 594 in 2011 to 792 in 2012.

Cornish vowed to change that to “a culture of respect where the issue of sexual assault in all forms becomes anathema to our ability to have an effective military.”

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.