NICEVILLE — Bernard Cooley, Jr. has been found guilty of lewd or lascivious molestation (victim under 12, offender over 18) and lewd or lascivious molestation (victim over 12 but under 16 and offender over 18) following a jury trial in Okaloosa County. The conviction was announced Thursday by Bill Eddins, state attorney for the First Judicial Circuit.
Cooley faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in the Department of Corrections and could be sentenced up to life in prison. Cooley will also be designated a sexual predator as a result of his conviction. Sentencing has been scheduled for Sept. 18.
The charges arose in February 2016 after the 12-year-old victim disclosed to her mother that the defendant had been molesting her for the previous six to seven years. The mother immediately reported the disclosure to law enforcement and an investigation was initiated. The defendant was ultimately arrested early the next morning at a hotel in Walton County.
It was learned during the investigation that similar allegations against the defendant had been made by another young victim. Both victims testified at trial against the defendant.
The investigation was conducted by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, and Assistant State Attorney Jennifer A. Lieb prosecuted the case.