General said to agree to deal on key sexual assault charge
March 16, 2014 11:01 PM
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair will plead guilty today to lesser charges as part of a plea deal in the sex-assault case that has gripped the military, according to his defense team.
By Craig Whitlock / The Washington Post
The legal defense team for a general whose sex-crime trial has gripped the U.S. military said Sunday that the Army had agreed to drop the most serious charges in exchange for his admission that he had "maltreated" a junior officer with whom he had a long affair and had caused her emotional distress.
The plea deal is scheduled to be presented to an Army judge at Fort Bragg, N.C., today. It would result in the dismissal of sexual-assault charges and other counts that would have required Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair to register as a sex offender and almost certainly would have resulted in prison time.
Gen. Sinclair's sentence remains to be determined, although his attorneys said they had agreed to a side deal with the Army that would cap his punishment. They declined to disclose details Sunday, but his punishment is expected to be finalized in court this week.
Army officials declined to confirm the plea deal Sunday. Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, the lead prosecutor, did not respond to an email. "Right now, the Army is allowing the outcome to be announced in the courtroom tomorrow," said Maj. Crystal Boring, an Army spokeswoman at Fort Bragg.
Gen. Sinclair's legal defense team, however, provided a copy of a written plea deal Sunday that it said had been approved by Maj. Gen. Clarence Chinn, the senior commander at Fort Bragg.
Gen. Sinclair had previously pleaded guilty to adultery and other minor charges March 6 but admitted guilt to some additional counts in the deal reached over the weekend with Army officials.
If the plea offer holds, it would represent the end of an exceptionally rare court-martial of an Army general -- there have been only three such cases in the past 60 years -- and an even rarer prosecution of a one-star commander on sexual-misconduct charges.
Since the investigation began two years ago, the Sinclair case has riveted the Army's rank and file, and it has also caused endless legal and public-relations headaches for the Army's leadership.
The military has been grappling with an onslaught of sexual-assault cases that have angered Congress and the White House and inflamed public opinion. Given that climate, Army leaders knew how they handled the investigation of a general would be scrutinized.
The accusations against Gen. Sinclair are serious, as well as sensational. A female captain who served on his staff in Iraq and Afghanistan reported that she had carried on a torrid affair with the married general for three years, having sex in two war zones and four countries.
But she blew the whistle on the relationship after she said he twice forced her to perform oral sex. She also charged that he had once threatened to kill her and her family if she revealed the affair. The Washington Post generally does not name alleged sex-crime victims.
Gen. Sinclair defended himself vigorously after he was charged by the Army, hiring a high-priced team of civilian defense attorneys and a public-relations firm. Through his attorneys, he admitted the adulterous relationship but denied sexually assaulting or threatening the captain. His lawyers said she made up details to punish him for refusing to divorce his wife.
There were holes in the accuser's story. Emails and text messages introduced in court clearly showed that she remained enamored with the general long after she asserted he had assaulted her.
She also gave conflicting accounts to other witnesses of whether the general had abused her, as well as about other important details in the case. In recent months, according to court filings, even prosecutors had concluded that she had credibility problems as they debated whether to accept a plea offer from Gen. Sinclair.
"The government understood that if it allowed [Gen.] Sinclair's accuser to be cross-examined she would be caught in a thick web of her own lies," said Richard Scheff, the lead defense attorney for the general.
He added that Gen. Sinclair "had admitted to mistakes that are normally a matter between husbands and wives, or employees and HR departments. It's time to put this matter to rest."
Under military law, adultery is a crime. Given that and other offenses to which Gen. Sinclair has said he will plead guilty, he could still face stiff punishment. At a minimum, he is likely to be reduced in rank, fined and kicked out of the Army.
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