The hearing at Fort Bragg caps the high-profile prosecution of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair. It comes as the military continues to grapple with revelations of sex crimes in its ranks and political pressure to address the issue. A sentencing hearing for Sinclair — believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to face court-martial on sexual assault charges — was expected to begin after a two-hour recess.
Sinclair pleaded to the lesser charges in exchange for the Army dropping sexual assault charges and two other counts that might have required him to register as a sex offender. A military judge accepted his guilty pleas.
Sinclair, 51, had been accused of twice forcing a female captain under his command to perform oral sex during a three-year extramarital affair. The Associated Press does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
Defense attorney Richard Scheff said Monday that Sinclair is admitting to his mistakes, but added that the general is pleading guilty to behavior that likely wouldn't be criminal in the civilian world.
Scheff said he expected Sinclair to "to retire at a reduced rank and go home to his family." Scheff said he understands that the military needs 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."
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.
Ultimately, the judge will give Sinclair a sentence that can't exceed terms in the agreement struck between defense lawyers and military attorneys. The legal agreement is likely to require a punishment far less severe than the maximum penalties of 15 years in prison and dismissal from the Army.
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