Judge OKs plea deal in brigadier general’s court-martial

Posted at 3:13 PM, Mar 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-17 15:14:35-04

(CNN) – A military judge has accepted a plea deal that drops the most serious charges against a brigadier general — formerly one of the top Army commanders in Afghanistan — who’d been accused of sexual assault, a Fort Bragg spokeswoman told CNN on Monday.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair is pleading guilty to adultery and mistreating his accuser in a deal that will see the sexual assault and sodomy charges against him dropped, his defense team said earlier.

Sentencing in the court-martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

Defense attorney Richard Scheff applauded the deal Sunday while attacking the Pentagon, which the defense has accused of interfering in the case, and Sinclair’s accuser, an Army captain the defense has painted as a jilted lover who was upset that the general wouldn’t leave his wife.

“After wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, the Army finally admitted what it’s known for many months: General Sinclair is innocent of sexual assault. Two successive prosecutors agreed that these charges should be dropped, as did two successive staff judge advocates,” Scheff said in a statement.

He continued: “The government understood that if it allowed BG Sinclair’s accuser to be cross-examined, she would be caught in a thick web of her own lies. It shouldn’t have taken two years for them to come to this conclusion, but they were driven by politics rather than justice.”

According to defense team spokesman Josh Zeitz, Sinclair and the government agreed to a maximum cap on penalties, and the general will receive the lesser of two sentences: either the terms agreed upon by the defense and prosecution, or the sentence issued by the military judge.

The deal conforms to what Zeitz earlier said was Sinclair’s condition for a plea deal: None of the charges to which he’s pleading guilty will land him on a sex offender registry.

Scheff said that the “reputational and financial costs” Sinclair has suffered because of “false rape allegations” should be factored into his sentencing.

The testimony of the general’s accuser was never fully aired. She testified for several hours on March 7, telling the court that the affair started with intimate exchanges and evolved into groping and demands for sex and oral sex, CNN affiliate WTVD reported. She also said the general threatened to kill her and her family, the station reported.

She was scheduled to continue her testimony on March 10, but Col. James Pohl, the presiding judge in the court-martial, dismissed the jury after 22 pages of e-mails emerged that appear to point to alleged Pentagon interference in the case. At least one of the e-mails also seemed to indicate that a senior Army official felt the accuser had a credibility issue.

While Pohl said there may have been “undue command influence” by Pentagon officials, he declined the defense team’s request that he drop charges against Sinclair. Pohl instead ordered that the general be provided a possible plea deal.

The defense team said Sunday that the plea deal put a stop to all three charges that would necessitate sex offender status for Sinclair, as well as a charge of defrauding the government and a charge that alleged “Sinclair ‘coerced and compelled’ his accuser to remain in their three-year, consensual relationship.”

The 27-year Army veteran will instead agree that his failure to end the relationship resulted in his accuser’s emotional discomfort and distress, as did his refusal to divorce his wife and marry his accuser, the defense statement said. The general will also plead guilty to mistreating his accuser, which the defense team noted is “an infraction unique to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Earlier this month, Sinclair pleaded guilty to other charges, including committing adultery, engaging in inappropriate relationships with three women, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors said he broke military law through sexual relationships — including threats to some women involved, who had lower ranks — between 2009 and 2012, overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, as well as Fort Bragg and Fort Hood, Texas.

Once the deputy commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, Sinclair was moved to the North Carolina post from Afghanistan in 2012, the same year the last alleged incidents occurred and when he was originally charged.

Sinclair’s attorneys filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all Pentagon e-mail communication including keywords in the Sinclair case, identifying about 10,000 e-mails among a dozen senior Pentagon officials, Zeitz said.

The Pentagon was reviewing the communications and would probably release them slowly, Zeitz said last week, but if something pivotal arose in those e-mails, the defense would file another motion to dismiss charges.

By Marlena Baldacci, Eliott C. McLaughlin and Jason Hanna