Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, who was accused of sexually assaulting a subordinate, has pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a plea deal reached with government prosecutors. A judge accepted the plea deal Monday; the general’s sentencing hearing will continue Tuesday.
NPR’s Tom Bowman reports for our Newscast unit that the prosecution’s case against Sinclair, 51, fell apart because of missteps by the Army command and credibility problems with his accuser:
“Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery and mistreating his accuser, his defense team said. The more serious charges of sexual assault and sodomy were dropped.
“The charges stemmed from an affair Sinclair had with his accuser, an Army captain, that continued for several years while both served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The case began to unravel when the prosecution learned that Sinclair’s accuser continued their affair after the alleged assault.
“Also, the judge in the case determined that senior Army officials in the Pentagon unduly influenced the case when they rejected an earlier plea agreement, fearing political repercussions.”
In the first phase of the sentencing hearing Monday, Sinclair’s accuser, an Army captain, spoke about the impact of Sinclair’s actions, which she said included threats against her and her family. Her mother also provided testimony.
“I’m very guarded now. I have a hard time trusting people. I have a very hard time feeling safe,” the captain told the court, according to the AP
The news agency also cites a statement issued by an attorney who advised the captain, retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett.
Discussing the accuser, Barnett said that Sinclair “literally sabotaged her career by altering her orders to keep her under his command and refusing her many requests to be transferred. She was literally trapped and bullied by one of the highest ranking officers in the United States Army.”
The charges against Sinclair stem from 2012, when he was abruptly recalled from duty in Afghanistan, where he was the deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
The case is being heard in Fort Bragg, N.C., where local ABC 11 News’ Nicole Carr reports that Sinclair’s defense attorney, Richard Scheff, today gave credit to a former prosecutor on the case who had suggested Sinclair’s initial offer to plead guilty in a deal had been refused due to political pressure.
That warning came from Lt. Col. William Helixon, who stepped down from the case. A chain of emails was later unearthed that illustrated his point, Carr reports.
“Frankly, this is a vindication of Colonel Helixon,” Scheff tells Carr. “This is what he wanted to do two months ago, two and a half months ago, and he deserves credit. He recognized, he had that feeling in his stomach that the case shouldn’t go forward.”
Prosecutors will call more witnesses when the sentencing hearing continues Tuesday. Sinclair’s defense is expected to call 20 witnesses on his behalf.