US Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair accepts sex-case plea deal
Top officer to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for dropping of sexual assault counts
The US Army general at the centre of a rare court martial of a top military leader was cleared of sexual assault charges yesterday, but admitted to mistreating a junior officer during their inappropriate sexual relationship.
Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to several lesser military criminal offences as part of an agreement with the government that dismissed the most serious allegations against him.
The 27-year army veteran's lawyers said he had been vindicated of charges that he forced a female army captain to perform oral sex, but his decorated military career is almost certainly over.
"I am hoping for Sinclair to retire at reduced rank and go home to his family," lead defence lawyer Richard Scheff said.
Scheff said he understood that the military needed to take a harder line against sexual assault but that there must be a balance. "It doesn't mean every complaint that's brought should go forward," he said.
"After wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, the army finally admitted what it's known for many months: General Sinclair is innocent of sexual assault," said Scheff. "[He] has admitted to mistakes that are normally a matter between husbands and wives, or employees and [human resources] departments. It's time to put this matter to rest."
According to the defence, this case was one of the first courts martial of a general in nearly 60 years. Most misdeeds by high-ranking officers are handled through loss of rank or early retirement.
Sinclair, a 51-year-old married father of two, has remained on active duty at the sprawling base at Fort Bragg after being stripped of command in southern Afghanistan in May 2012 as a result of the criminal allegations.
His trial was already under way this month when a judge ruled that politics appeared to have improperly influenced the army's decision to reject an earlier offer by Sinclair to plead guilty in exchange for the charges of coercive sex acts being dropped.
The judge allowed Sinclair to renew his plea offer, and the general's lawyers announced on Sunday that a resolution to the case had been reached.
The agreement called for the government to drop the sexual assault charges involving the captain with whom Sinclair admitted to having a three-year extramarital affair, as well as two charges that could have required him to register as a sex offender.
The identity of the captain, a military intelligence officer, is being withheld by Reuters due to the nature of the charges.
Sinclair pleaded guilty to maltreatment of his accuser, admitting that his behaviour could have caused her "mental harm or suffering" during their affair that spanned two war zones.
He admitted to using his government credit card for personal purposes related to the affair and to using demeaning language to refer to female staff officers.
Sinclair also faces punishment after pleading guilty to having an adulterous affair, asking junior female officers for nude photos and possessing pornography on his laptop while deployed.