U.S. Army General Jeffrey Sinclair Maintains Innocence on Sexual Assault Charges
U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair will plead guilty to three lesser counts in a rare military court martial, but he will not plead guilty to the more serious charges facing him: the allegations that he sexually abused a female captain in Afghanistan. Sinclair's attorneys made the announcement ahead of the opening trial in Fort Bragg, N.C., on Thursday. Sinclair is set to admit to having extramarital relationships with two women in the military and a mistress — which is a crime in the military — being in possession of pornography while serving in Afghanistan, and pressuring women to send him nude photos of themselves. He is believed to be the most senior-ranking official to face a sexual-assault trial.
Sinclair's lawyers will fight against the allegations that he forced a female captain to perform oral sex on him and threatened to kill her family if she exposed their three-year affair. After the accuser came forward in 2012, Sinclair was let go as deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. If convicted on the most serious charges, Sinclair faces life in prison. If convicted of the lesser charges, he will only get fines and a reduction in rank when he retires from the military.
Even though a prosecutor says there are "stark similarities" between the sex-assault charge and the roughly 8,500 images and 600 videos of pornography in Sinclair's stash, military lawyers cannot use the two as a connection.
About a month ago, the trial's lead prosecutor "broke down in tears, appearing drunk and suicidal" to a senior official, as a possible result of the pressure he felt to uphold the military's renewed effort to stem sexual assaults.
Lt. Col. William Helixon said he was convinced the accuser had lied about crucial evidence, but thought the case against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was of such strategic importance to the military's crackdown on sexual assaults, he felt pressured to pursue it, according to testimony from Brig. Gen. Paul Wilson, who found the prosecutor distraught in a Washington hotel room.
A new prosecutor was brought in, but Sinclair's defense is convinced that the accuser lied under oath and tampered with evidence. The accuser's credibility may have been compromised because she may have lied about when she recovered an old cellphone with incriminating photos and text messages from Sinclair.
"All [prosecutors are] left with is a crime that never happened, a witness who committed perjury, and a pile of text messages and journal entries that disprove their claim. We wish them lots of luck, because they’re going to need it," says Sinclair's lead attorney, Richard Scheff.
The jurors in the case are all military officials who rank higher than Sinclair.