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Judge in general's court-martial dismisses jury after e-mails emerge

From Tristan Smith and Marlena Baldacci, CNN
updated 8:15 PM EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
Brig. Gen. Jeffery Sinclair has pleaded guilty to some charges, but others remain.
Brig. Gen. Jeffery Sinclair has pleaded guilty to some charges, but others remain.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Judge dismisses jury after 22 pages of e-mails emerge over weekend
  • E-mails show Army officials had doubts about accuser's credibility
  • Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to several counts last week
  • Defense describes case as a "mess entirely of the government's making"

(CNN) -- A military judge dismissed the jury Monday in Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair's court-martial after e-mails emerged over the weekend that could point to alleged Pentagon interference in the proceedings.

Among the 22 pages of e-mails are a January communication in which a senior military lawyer writes Fort Bragg's chief of military justice casting doubt on SInclair's accuser's credibility, and a February correspondence in which a lieutenant colonel with the Judge Advocate General's Corps asked for a colonel's "thoughts/opinion" on Sinclair's offer to enter a plea.

According to CNN affiliate WTVD, Col. James Pohl, the presiding judge in the court-martial, granted a motion to reconsider whether unlawful command influence has marred the proceedings. The judge ruled Army prosecutors failed to meet their burden of proof in denying that the court-martial had been unduly influenced.

Now, according to WTVD, the court must determine whether to grant a mistrial or delay the current trial and start over. The judge ruled out his third option: dropping the most serious charges against Sinclair, said Josh Zeitz, a spokesman for the defense.

Last week, Sinclair, formerly one of the top Army commanders in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty to several charges, including committing adultery, engaging in inappropriate relationships with three women, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and obstruction of justice, reported the public affairs office for Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Army general to plead guilty

The government's lawyers dropped two counts -- one of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and the other for cruelty and maltreatment -- while Sinclair still stands accused of "sodomy ... by force and without the consent" of his alleged victim, an Army captain.

Charges also loom for alleged cruel and maltreatment of subordinates and defrauding the government, according to Fort Bragg.

The accuser, whom the defense has painted as a jilted lover upset that Sinclair wouldn't leave his wife, testified the day after Sinclair entered pleas to some charges, with the accuser telling the court that the affair started with intimate exchanges and evolved into groping and demands for sex and oral sex, WTVD reported.

She was slated to continue testifying Monday, but the judge put the case on hold. It's unclear if she will resume testimony Tuesday.

The e-mails that brought the proceedings to a halt Monday were described by defense attorney Richard Scheff as evidence showing that not only did senior Army officials believe that the accuser had a credibility issue, but also that commanders are making decision based on politics rather than justice.

In the January communication, Col. Michael Lacey, a staff judge advocate, writes Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson about the accuser's testimony regarding an iPhone she said she found December 9.

"The forensic analysis of the phone indicates she accessed the phone before 9 December, which brings her credibility into question. The Special Victims Prosecutor (SVP) is trying to reconcile the forensic analysis and her statement, but it is possible that she was not truthful," Lacey wrote.

The defense wants the remaining charges against Sinclair dismissed and says the case "should never have come to trial."

"It's a mess entirely of the government's making," Scheff said. "When the chief prosecutor quits because he doesn't believe the accuser, when senior officials in the chain of command and the Pentagon agree that the accuser has a credibility problem, and when commanders make decisions based on politics instead of justice, how can you possibly call this a functional process?"

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