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Brigadier general accused of sex assault must pay over $20,000; no jail time

By Greg Botelho and Marlena Baldacci, CNN
updated 6:10 PM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeffrey Sinclair must forfeit $20,000 in pay, get a reprimand, pay over $4,000 for travel fraud
  • The brigadier general says afterward that "the system worked"
  • He'd earlier pleaded guilty to some charges; others including sodomy were dropped
  • Accuser's lawyer says Sinclair's "slap on the wrist" is "a travesty"

(CNN) -- A former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan was ordered Thursday to pay thousands of dollars but avoided prison time in a case that put a spotlight on the military's handling of sexual misconduct among troops.

Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was told he'd get a reprimand, and he must forfeit $20,000 and pay restitution of $4,157 related to travel fraud charges, his lawyer, Richard Scheff, said.

Sinclair's court-martial came at a time when many have accused the military of not doing enough to address sex crimes and harassment targeting women.

The sentence was handed down days after Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery and mistreating one of his accusers in a deal that saw the sexual assault and sodomy charges against him dropped, according to Sinclair's defense team.

He had previously pleaded guilty to other charges in the court-martial, including committing adultery, engaging in inappropriate relationships with three women, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors said Sinclair broke military law through sexual relationships -- including threats to some women involved who held lower ranks -- between 2009 and 2012 in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, as well as Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Hood, Texas.

Once the deputy commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, Sinclair was moved to the North Carolina post from Afghanistan in 2012, the same year the last alleged incidents occurred and when he was originally charged.

Opinion: Military justice bungles sex cases

After he left Thursday's hearing at Fort Bragg, Sinclair said he was glad "the system worked."

"All I want to do now is go up north and hug my kids and see my wife," he said.

Scheff said that he, too, was "very, very grateful" for how everything played out. He added that Sinclair plans to file his retirement papers with the Army.

"It restores our faith in the system," Scheff said of the outcome, repeating his assertion that "we would not be here at all" if the same allegations were leveled in the civilian justice system. "Somebody who is neutral and objective looked at the evidence (and) did the right thing."

Retired Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, a partner with a law firm that represented one of Sinclair's accusers, called Thursday's sentencing a "slap on the wrist" that is "beyond disappointing. It is a travesty and a serious misstep for the Army." He said the ordeal shows remaining "challenges" in the military when it comes to sexual abuse and assault.

"She had her day in court to speak the truth about the horrible things he did, and based on Judge (James) Pohl's sentence, that will have to be enough," Barnett said of his client. "But it shouldn't be."

The testimony of his client, an Army captain, was never fully aired. She testified for several hours on March 7, telling the court that an affair started with intimate exchanges and evolved into groping and demands for sex and oral sex, CNN affiliate WTVD reported. She also said the general threatened to kill her and her family, the station reported.

The woman was scheduled to continue her testimony on March 10, but Pohl 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.

A recent Pentagon report showed that there were estimated to be 26,000 incidents of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact in 2012, and just over 10% of those were reported.

These concerns fueled a push championed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, for legislation to remove military commanders from deciding whether most serious allegations of wrongdoing by their subordinates should be prosecuted. The responsibility would have been shifted to prosecutors outside the chain of command.

Opponents said that such a measure would undermine the critical military principle of command authority.

Earlier this month, Gillibrand's bill failed to get the needed 60 votes to pass the Senate. However, a separate measure to largely disallow the "good soldier" defense -- which permits defendants to enter evidence of their good military character at trial to mitigate the charges against them -- did make it through the chamber.

Political fight over military sex assaults divides female senators

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