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Defense: Sex assault charges dropped in brigadier general's court-martial

By Marlena Baldacci and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Mon March 17, 2014
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair had previously said he wouldn't plead guilty to charges that put him on sex-offender registry.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair had previously said he wouldn't plead guilty to charges that put him on sex-offender registry.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sexual assault charge to be dropped against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, defense says
  • Defense attorney says costs of "false rape allegations" should be factored into sentence
  • General had said he wouldn't plead guilty to charges that put him on sex-offender registry
  • Government agrees to sentence cap; general knows maximum penalty, defense says

(CNN) -- Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair will plead guilty to adultery and mistreating his accuser in a deal that will see the sexual assault and sodomy charges against him dropped, according to his defense team and CNN affiliate WTVD.

Maj. Gen. Clarence Chinn, a commander at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where the court-martial has been taking place, approved Sinclair's offer to plea this weekend, making it a binding document, according to a statement from the defense.

Defense attorney Richard Scheff applauded the decision while attacking the Pentagon, which the defense has accused of interfering in the case, and Sinclair's accuser, an Army captain the defense has painted as a jilted lover who was upset that the general wouldn't leave his wife.

"After wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, the Army finally admitted what it's known for many months: General Sinclair is innocent of sexual assault. Two successive prosecutors agreed that these charges should be dropped, as did two successive staff judge advocates," Scheff said in a statement.

He continued, "The government understood that if it allowed BG Sinclair's accuser to be cross-examined, she would be caught in a thick web of her own lies. It shouldn't have taken two years for them to come to this conclusion, but they were driven by politics rather than justice."

Scheff concluded his remarks, saying that the "reputational and financial costs" Sinclair has suffered because of "false rape allegations" should be factored into his sentencing.

The testimony of the general's accuser was never fully aired. She testified for several hours March 7, telling the court that the affair started with intimate exchanges and evolved into groping and demands for sex and oral sex, WTVD reported. She also said the general threatened to kill her and her family, the station reported.

She was scheduled to continue her testimony March 10, but Col. James Pohl, the presiding judge in the court-martial, dismissed the jury after 22 pages of e-mails emerged that appear to point to alleged Pentagon interference in the case. At least one of the e-mails also seemed to indicate that a senior Army official felt the accuser had a credibility issue.

While Pohl said there may have been "undue command influence" by Pentagon officials, he declined the defense team's request that he drop charges against Sinclair. Pohl instead ordered that the general be provided a possible plea deal.

Sinclair's attorneys filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all Pentagon e-mail communication including keywords in the Sinclair case, identifying about 10,000 e-mails among a dozen senior Pentagon officials, defense spokesman Josh Zeitz said.

The Pentagon was reviewing the communications and would likely release them slowly, Zeitz said Wednesday, but if the two sides reached a plea deal and something pivotal arose in those e-mails, the defense would file another motion to dismiss charges.

Zeitz said last week that Sinclair would not plead guilty to sexual assault, threatening the accuser or her family or any charge that would land him on a sex-offender registry.

The Sunday statement from the defense team said the plea deal nixed all three charges that would necessitate sex offender status for the general, as well as a charge of defrauding the government and a charge that alleged "Sinclair 'coerced and compelled' his accuser to remain in their three-year, consensual relationship."

The 27-year Army veteran will instead agree that his failure to end the relationship resulted in his accuser's emotional discomfort and distress, as did his refusal to divorce his wife and marry his accuser, the defense statement said. The general will also plead guilty to mistreating his accuser, which the defense team noted is "an infraction unique to the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

"We're left with a collection of lesser charges, most of which aren't criminal in the civilian world," Scheff said in his statement. "Sinclair has admitted to mistakes that are normally a matter between husbands and wives, or employees and HR departments. It's time to put this matter to rest."

Sentencing will begin this week. While it's unclear what penalty Sinclair faces, the government has agreed to a "quantum" -- essentially a maximum-penalty cap that won't be revealed to Pohl, according to the defense. Pohl will hand down his sentence, and Sinclair will face the lesser of the two sentences -- either Pohl's or those laid out in the quantum.

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