Military Officials 'Influenced' Case Of Army General Charged With Sexual Assault, And So A Judge Has Ruled The Trial Delayed
If you're the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to ever be court-martialed on sexual assault charges, as Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair most likely is, you've gotta expect that officials will be keeping a close eye on the proceedings. And if the Senate passes a sexual assault bill promising to make sweeping changes to how the military handles alleged sexual violence cases in the same week — as it did Monday — then you'll be under the microscope even more. Now, a judge has postponed Sinclair's trial due to possibly higher-up "influences" that saw the case allegedly pressured to move forward to exemplify the military's sexual-assault reforms.
On Monday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed new reforms concerning military sexual assault cases, 97-0. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill's bill promises to nix the "good soldier" defense, which was used to reduce sentences if a officer had a positive military record. The bill still has to pass the House, and both parties are unlikely to take it up as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act until at least June.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had championed another bill that would've removed sexual-assault cases from military chain of command, but it failed last week in the Senate.
How will the Sinclair case be affected by the legislation? Well, it seems it already has been. Now, Sinclair's lawyers will try to renegotiate his plea deal with a new set of military officials. Judge Col. James Pohl sent the jury of military officials back to their respective posts after finding new evidence of emails circulating among military officials that didn't focus on the specific evidence at hand. In other words, they thought not pursuing Sinclair's case at a public trial would make them look bad.
The officials believed allowing the general to avoid trial would send "the wrong signal," reports the AP.
Of course, that's not to say that military officials didn't have good reason to pusue a trial. As Bustle previously reported:
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.
Back in December, Sinclair offered to issue a guilty plea to the lesser charges — including having extramarital affairs and possessing a hefty amount of porn while serving in Afghanistan — in exchange for the Army dropping the sexual assault charges. He was denied. He plead guilty to the lesser charges last week.
Even though Pohl maintains that the only part of the case that was sullied is the plea, Sinclair's lead attorney Richard Scheff thinks otherwise, of course.
Scheff said the new developments vindicated what the defense has been claiming for months — that the Army pressed ahead with a weak case for fear of the political blowback that would result from dropping charges against such a high-profile defendant.