Nellis court-martial delayed; one more juror needed

The military judge presiding in the sexual abuse and assault court-martial of a Nellis Air Force Base major excused all but four of the 11 officers who were detailed to serve as court members, or jurors, leaving the panel one shy of a quorum to proceed with the trial Wednesday.

The judge, Lt. Col. Christopher Schumann, found that those excused had at least an implied bias that would hinder fairness in the trial of Maj. Charles L. Cox Jr. The court-martial proceeding paused while more potential court members could be found for screening.

The court-martial is scheduled to resume Thursday morning to complete the panel of court members.

If a quorum of at least five is seated to join the panel of one colonel and three lieutenant colonels Thursday, then the trial will proceed with opening statements by the trial and defense counsels.

Cox, a nurse assigned to the 99th Medical Operations Squadron at Nellis, pleaded not guilty to all charges Tuesday.

He 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.

The alleged sexual assault and abuse encounters happened “at or near Las Vegas,” according to the charge sheet.

During screening of the court members, the trial and defense counsel wanted to know how much exposure each potential panel member had to media coverage of the case. The legal teams also asked what the panel candidates knew about public statements made by President Barack Obama, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and 99th Air Base Wing commander Col. Barry Cornish regarding the surge in sexual assault cases in the military and the task of changing the culture to prevent them.

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

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

In a May interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cornish vowed to ensure the culture at Nellis is one of “respect where the issue of sexual assault in all forms becomes anathema to our ability to have an effective military.”

Cornish noted that the number of airmen educators trained in sexual assault prevention and response increased under his command from 25 to 250 last year. They go to each unit to teach others about the program, citing facts that excessive alcohol consumption and lack of discipline are often contributing factors.

In describing the effort to foster a climate of respect, Cornish used a metaphor about “keeping the grass mowed short so that we don’t allow predators to hide in the grass.”

“Whether it’s gender, race, creed or sexual orientation, if it’s appropriate, it doesn’t belong here. And that’s changing the culture. That is keeping the grass mowed,” he said.

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


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