FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) – The sentencing hearing for an Army general who admitted to inappropriate relationships with three subordinates is expected to wrap up Wednesday after testimony by friends and colleagues who praised his leadership.
Lawyers for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair said they would call about 10 more character witnesses but should be finished by the afternoon. Prosecutors would have a chance for a short rebuttal, then a judge will decide the general’s fate. Whether he will deliberate for minutes or days is not known.
Sinclair faces a maximum of 21 Â½ years in prison and dismissal from the Army, but will likely wind up with a far less severe punishment.
The judge will give Sinclair a sentence that can’t exceed terms in the agreement struck between defense lawyers and military attorneys over the weekend, but has not been made public. The judge will make his own decision before unsealing the agreement, and Sinclair will receive whichever is the more lenient punishment.
The general admitted he mistreated a captain under his command during a three-year affair and had improper relationships with two other women. He also pleaded guilty to adultery – a crime in the military – as well as using his government-issued credit card to pay for improper trips to see his mistress and other conduct unbecoming an officer.
The 51-year-old general had been accused of twice forcing the female captain under his command to perform oral sex during the three-year extramarital affair, but the sexual assault charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.
Defense lawyers focused Tuesday on the 27-year Army career that took Sinclair from the small West Virginia town where he grew up poor to a position leading thousands as deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne. They called his brother, his ROTC commander from college, a military wife whose husband served alongside him and a soldier who said Sinclair was the only person who believed he had something to contribute to the Army after he hurt his back.
Most had extensive praise for Sinclair, including retired Chief Warrant Officer Eric Lee, who testified by phone from Chile. He met Sinclair when both were Rangers in 1994.
Asked by Sinclair’s lawyers whether he would follow the general into combat if he were deployed again, he said: “I’d be on the next plane out of the Santiago airport.”
Such testimony could be prohibited in future military trials under legislation being considered in Congress. To better protect alleged victims within the ranks, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation last week to ban the “good-soldier defense” to ensure that a defendant’s fate is determined solely by evidence. The House has signaled it won’t take up the bill immediately despite momentum generated by the Senate vote.
Prosecutors countered Tuesday’s defense testimony by asking each witness if a truly inspirational and talented officer would solicit nude photos from subordinates – behavior Sinclair admitted to.
Prosecutors also called two final witnesses in the morning, including Lt. Col. Benjamin Bigelow. He talked about a 2010 party in Germany that included a sexually suggestive skit involving soldiers dressed up as Sinclair and the captain who was his primary accuser.
During the skit, the character in the wig “moved in front of the Sinclair character’s crotch and offered to do something for him,” Bigelow said.
Bigelow said Sinclair’s wife attended the party and was “clearly shocked, angered and dismayed.” He said the accuser wasn’t at the party.
Sinclair’s attorney said the general had nothing to do with the skit.
After court Tuesday, defense lawyers released a letter written by Sinclair’s wife, Rebecca. In it, she says she hasn’t fully forgiven her husband but doesn’t want the Army to punish him and his family further.
Lawyers will argue Wednesday whether the letter should be allowed to be read in her husband’s sentencing. Rebecca Sinclair hasn’t attended her husband’s hearings, but she asks the judge to not punish her and the couple’s two sons by taking away significant pension and other benefits.
“Believe me when I tell you that the public humiliation and vilification he has endured are nothing compared to the private suffering and he lives with every day. He is racked with guilt over the pain he has caused me, my children and the Army,” Rebecca Sinclair writes.
The Army’s case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about whether his primary accuser 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. The judge’s decision initiated new plea negotiations.
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