RAHLEIGH, N.C. – A U.S. Army general accused of sexually assaulting a junior officer will admit guilt on three lesser charges but maintains his innocence on more serious charges stemming from her claim that he forced her to perform oral sex, his lawyer said Wednesday night.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair is set to enter the plea Thursday morning before opening statements for his court martial at Fort Bragg. The primary accuser in the case is a female captain who claims Sinclair twice forced her to perform oral sex and threatened to kill her family if she told anyone about their three-year affair.
Sinclair's lawyer Richard Scheff said the general will plead guilty to having improper relationships with two other female Army officers and to committing adultery with his mistress, which is a crime in the military. He will also admit violating orders by possessing pornography in Afghanistan and to conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman.
Scheff said in an interview that his client is taking responsibility for his actions, but also strengthening his legal position headed into trial by pleading guilty to the lesser counts.
By admitting guilt on the charges for which there is the strongest evidence, the married father of two narrows the focus of the upcoming trial to charges that rely heavily on the testimony and credibility of his former mistress.
"The government now has a big problem," Scheff said in an email. "It took pathetically weak assault charges and put a fancy wrapper around them. We just tore the wrapper off. The prosecution team no longer gets to distract us with salacious details about acts that aren't even criminal in the civilian world. All they're left with is a crime that never happened, a witness who committed perjury, and a pile of text messages and journal entries that disprove their claim."
Sinclair, the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne, faces life in prison if convicted of the remaining sexual assault charges.
The defense will present evidence at trial that the female captain lied under oath during a pretrial hearing in January about her handling of old iPhone containing messages between her and the general. Lawyers for Sinclair have painted the woman as a scorned lover who only reported the sexual assault allegations after the general refused to leave his wife.
The captain testified that on Dec. 9, shortly after what she described as a contentious meeting with prosecutors, she rediscovered an old iPhone stored in a box at her home that still contained saved text messages and voicemails from the general. After charging the phone, she testified she synced it with her computer to save photos before contacting her attorney.
However, a defense expert's examination suggested the captain powered up the device more than two weeks before the meeting with prosecutors. She also tried to make a call and performed a number of other operations.
Three additional experts verified those findings.
During a pretrial hearing on Thursday, a top Pentagon lawyer testified that the lead prosecutor assigned to the case for nearly two years, Lt. Col. William Helixon, had urged that the most serious charges against Sinclair be dropped after he became convinced the captain had lied to him about the cell phone. That prosecutor was overruled and then removed from the case last month, after he was described as suffering a profound moral crisis.
The case now heads to trial with a new lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, who said in court he doesn't care what his predecessor thought about the strength of the case.