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Sexual assault charges dropped in rare court-martial of top military leader

By Reuters
Monday, March 17, 2014 11:55 EDT
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By Kelly Twedell

FORT BRAGG, North Carolina (Reuters) – The U.S. Army general at the center of a rare court-martial of a top military leader was cleared of sexual assault charges on Monday, but admitted to mistreating a junior officer during their inappropriate sexual relationship.

Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to several lesser military criminal offenses as part of an agreement with the government that dismissed the most serious allegations against him.

The 27-year Army veteran’s attorneys 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 defense attorney Richard Scheff said ahead of the court proceedings at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The sentencing phase will begin Monday afternoon, and Sinclair’s attorneys plan to argue against any jail time.

According to the defense, 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 attorneys 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 additional 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 behavior 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.

The one-star general also faces punishment after pleading guilty this month to having an adulterous affair, asking junior female officers for nude photos and possessing pornography on his laptop while deployed in Afghanistan.

(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Phil Berlowitz)

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