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General won't plead guilty if it means sex-offender registry, defense says

From Marlena Baldacci, CNN
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair's court-martial is on hold as prosecutors and the defense negotiate a plea deal.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair's court-martial is on hold as prosecutors and the defense negotiate a plea deal.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jury sent back to duty in general's court-martial as two sides hammer out plea deal
  • General won't plead guilty to sexual assault or threatening accuser, source says
  • Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to some of the less-serious charges last week

(CNN) -- The defense and prosecution were hammering out a plea deal Tuesday in the court-martial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, but no matter what the negotiations hold, the defense says three things are off the table.

First, Sinclair won't plead guilty to sexual assault, said Josh Zeitz, a spokesman for the general's defense team. Nor will he plead guilty to any charge that will land him on a sex-offender registry. And lastly, Zeitz said, Sinclair will not plead guilty to threatening his accuser or her family.

No developments are expected Tuesday or Wednesday, and Zeitz said the negotiations could last for weeks.

Col. James Pohl, the judge in the case, dismissed the jury "for the time being" Tuesday morning to return to their duty stations, a spokeswoman for Fort Bragg in North Carolina said.

On Monday, a day when Sinclair's accuser was slated to continue her testimony from Friday, Pohl dismissed the jury because of 22 pages of e-mails that emerged over the weekend.

The e-mails include a January communication in which a senior military lawyer wrote Fort Bragg's chief of military justice casting doubt on the credibility of Sinclair's accuser 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.

Pohl indicated there may have been "undue command influence" by Pentagon officials. While Pohl would not grant the defense's request to drop charges against Sinclair, he ordered that the general be provided a possible plea deal, in addition to several other options.

The defense team is evaluating several options after the release of the e-mails, Zeitz said. Sinclair's attorneys have also filed a FOIA for all Pentagon e-mail communication including keywords in the Sinclair case.

About 10,000 e-mails among 12 senior Pentagon officials were identified, and the Pentagon is reviewing the communications, Zeitz said, adding the defense expects the e-mails to be released slowly.

If a plea deal is reached and something pivotal emerges in the e-mails, the defense would file a new motion for dismissal of charges, he said.

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

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.

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