General in Sex Case: Guilty Plea on Lesser Counts
An Army general who admitted to inappropriate relationships with three soldiers under his command pleaded guilty Monday to a host of lesser charges as prosecutors dropped the most serious - sexual assault counts - as part of a deal.
The hearing at Fort Bragg caps the high-profile prosecution of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair. It comes as the military continues to grapple with revelations of sex crimes in its ranks and political pressure to address the issue. A sentencing hearing for Sinclair - believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to face court-martial on sexual assault charges - could begin as soon as Monday.
Lawyers for Sinclair said over the weekend that he would plead to lesser charges in exchange for the dropping of the sexual assault charges and two other counts that might have required him to register as a sex offender.
Sinclair, 51, had been accused of twice forcing a female captain under his command to perform oral sex during a three-year extramarital affair. The Associated Press does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
The Army’s case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about whether the woman had lied in a pre-trial hearing. It was further thrown into jeopardy last week when Judge Col. James Pohl said the military may have improperly pressed ahead with the trial to send a message about its determination to curb rape and other widespread misconduct. Under the military code of justice, the decision was supposed to be decided solely on the evidence, not its broader political implications.
Ultimately, a judge will give Sinclair a sentence that can’t exceed terms in the agreement struck between defense lawyers and military attorneys. The legal agreement is likely to require a punishment less severe than the maximum penalties of 15 years in prison and dismissal from the Army.
Sinclair may also face additional administrative penalties from the Army, which could force him to retire at reduced rank. That could cost Sinclair hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension benefits.
Retired Maj. Gen. Walt Huffman, a Texas Tech University law professor who previously served as the Army’s top lawyer, said Sinclair could be busted back two ranks to lieutenant colonel since the affair at the heart of the case began before his most recent promotion.
Huffman said it’s possible the judge could sentence Sinclair to a punishment lower than what’s called for in the plea agreement.
"If the judge determines he was a good soldier who served his country well other than his inability to control his zipper, then the judge might cut him a break," Huffman said. "But either way, his career in the Army is going to be over."
Sinclair’s new plea agreement was approved and signed over the weekend by a high-ranking general overseeing the case, according to a copy provided by the defense team.